US President Biden announced on Wednesday that he plans to send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, overturning the administration’s longstanding resistance to Kyiv’s demands for the highly sophisticated but high-maintenance vehicles.
Biden said in remarks to the White House that this US support was to help Ukraine “defend its sovereignty” and that the tank shipment did not mean it posed an “offensive threat”.
Biden’s announcement came after Germany confirmed earlier Wednesday that it would send 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine from its own stockpile. The two nations appeared to be at an impasse as German officials had indicated that Berlin would send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine only if the United States sent the M-1 Abrams tanks.
If you’re just reading, here’s what you need to know about today’s developments:
Why it matters: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told CNN’s Kate Bolduan on “At This Hour” on Wednesday that the tanks will “significantly enhance” Kyiv’s combat capabilities. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has consistently asked Western allies for modern tanks as his country prepares for a major Russian counteroffensive expected in the spring.
With the United States and Germany having pledged to send tanks to Ukraine, other countries, especially those with German-made tanks, have also announced contributions to the front lines. CNN cannot confirm the total number of Leopard 2 tanks to be delivered, but pledges made by several countries so far mean the Ukrainian military is on track to receive dozens of tanks. Germany’s main ruling party said on Wednesday that Ukraine’s western allies would send the country a total of about 80 Leopard 2 main battle tanks.
Why send tanks now: Sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine will provide Kyiv forces with a modern and powerful military vehicle ahead of a potential Russian offensive in the spring. It will also deal a blow to the Kremlin, which has seen a growing campaign to equip Ukrainian troops with high-tech combat systems as Russia’s ground war approaches a year.
Speaking ahead of Biden’s announcement, senior US officials framed the decision as an investment in Ukraine’s ‘longer-term capabilities’, an indication the administration sees the war now 11 months in the making. extend into the future. Ukraine hopes the new tanks can help it retake territory seized by Russia, including in the Donbass. It could also include Crimea, the peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.
Possible challenges: The Abrams tanks will take months to arrive, senior Biden administration officials have said, and will require extensive training for Ukrainian troops on how to use and maintain them. The United States must navigate complicated supply chains for the components needed for the tanks.
The procurement process will take months, officials said, although the German Leopards will arrive in the shorter term. In the meantime, the United States will launch a “comprehensive training program” for the Ukrainians on the Abrams, which will require significant maintenance once deployed. The training will take place outside Ukraine.
Portugal’s foreign minister said on Wednesday it would take two to three months before Western-supplied Leopard 2 tanks would be fully operational in Ukraine.
Watch CNN’s Jim Sciutto break down the latest tank news:
CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Stephanie Halasz, Sophie Tanno and Sugam Pokharel contributed to this post.