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American-made main battle tanks may go to Ukraine, the timing is uncertain

Profile photo: Servicemen from the 1st Armored Battalion, Ninth Regiment, U.S. Army First Division, Texas, and Abrams main battle tanks arrive at the Pabrad railway station, about 50 kilometers north of the Lithuanian capital Vilnius. (21 October 2019)
Profile photo: Servicemen from the 1st Armored Battalion, Ninth Regiment, U.S. Army First Division, Texas, and Abrams main battle tanks arrive at the Pabrad railway station, about 50 kilometers north of the Lithuanian capital Vilnius. (21 October 2019)

WASHINGTON — Calls from Ukrainian officials for more and more advanced tanks to help them fight Russia are beginning to echo in Washington, where the United States is now preparing to send advanced American-made main battle tanks to Ukraine.

A U.S. official familiar with the brew told the media on Tuesday (Jan. 24) that the White House is finalizing the M1 Abrams they have long craved, though it may be some time before Ukraine receives the tanks and puts them on the battlefield.

The official requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the plan. The official said it is possible that the tanks will be supplied through the Pentagon’s Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI). The funding allows the Defense Department to procure weapons and systems from defense manufacturers or other sources, rather than directly from U.S. inventories.

In this case, the official said, the United States may seek to buy Abrams tanks from other countries and refurbish them before sending them to Ukraine.

NEW: US preparing to announce it will provide #Ukraine w/US-made M1 Abrams tanks, US official confirms to media

Tanks likely to be procured through the Ukraine
Security Assistance Initiative (#USAI), which means they would not be coming from existing US stocks, official says

— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) January 24, 2023

The decision to provide Abrams to Ukraine was part of a diplomatic understanding about Germany supplying Ukraine with some German Leopard 2 tanks. The Wall Street Journal first reported the decision.

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The decision to supply such tanks to Kiev will mark a reversal of the position of American officials. Many officials have previously dismissed the idea of supplying Ukraine with M1 Abrams tanks. They warned that while the tank performed well, it was difficult to repair and consumed more fuel than Kiev could handle.

Colin Kah, the deputy secretary of defense for policy, told the media last week: “We should not give Ukrainians systems that they can’t repair, they can’t maintain, and they can’t afford in the long run, because that doesn’t help.”

On Tuesday, Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon’s press secretary, echoed the same sentiment.

“Our focus has always been to provide Ukraine with capabilities that they can use immediately on the battlefield,” he said. “The M1 is a complex system and maintenance is challenging… This is the real situation yesterday. This is also the real situation today. This will be the real situation in the future.

As the United States shifts its stance on supplying M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, multiple German news outlets report that Germany has decided to ship some German Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, in addition to authorizing other countries to hand over their German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Kiev.

Earlier, after a meeting in Berlin, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Germany’s decision to allow Polish-dominated allies to supply Ukraine with the German-made tanks they crave.

“At this critical moment in the war, we must provide Ukraine with heavier and more advanced weapons systems, and we must do it faster,” Stoltenberg said.

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He added that the provision of main battle tanks to the Ukrainian army is important to repel the Russian advance and help Ukraine recover territory.

Ukrainian officials have said that Western main battle tanks, such as the Panther and Abrams, will allow the Ukrainian army to increase mobility, firepower, and protection. The Ukrainian army is trying to drive the Russian army out of the Ukrainian territory they occupied.

Andriy Yermak, chief of staff for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, wrote on the Telegram platform on Tuesday: “Let our tankmen have hundreds of tanks — the best in the world.” This will be a real blow to democracy against autocracy from the quagmire.

At the same time, signals from the United States indicate that although Washington was initially reluctant to provide Ukraine with certain weapons systems, the United States maintained its willingness to shift gears as the situation on the ground changed.

“We’re not getting capabilities off the table,” Ned Price, a spokesman for the State Department, told the media Tuesday. “This is a conversation, based on what our Ukrainian partners need, where they need it, and when they need it.”

Zelensky said there will be some personnel changes in his government, and several senior Ukrainian officials announced their resignations on Tuesday.

Viacheslav Shapovalov, the deputy defense minister in charge of logistical support for the Ukrainian army, announced his resignation, referring to allegations of a food procurement scandal. He denies these allegations.

Deputy Prosecutor General Oleksiy Symonenko and Deputy Chief of Staff of President Zelensky, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, also resigned, without giving a reason for their departure.

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“There are already personnel decisions, some today, some tomorrow — it’s about ministries and other central government structures, as well as officials at all levels of oblast and law enforcement,” Zelensky said in a nightly video address Monday.

U.S. officials said Tuesday that there appeared to be no indication that the corruption problem was affecting U.S. security assistance to Ukraine.

Pentagon spokesman Ryder said: “We are not aware of any type of pervasive problem in terms of what could negatively impact the fighting against corruption.

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