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Ukraine Gets Tanks from US, Germany


FILE: U.S. M1 Abrams tanks take part in the "Saber Strike" NATO military exercise in Adazi, Latvia. Taken June 11, 2016.

UPDATED AGAIN WITH ZELENSKYY THANKS: The United States announced on Wednesday it will supply Ukraine with 31 advanced M1 Abrams tanks worth $400 million in a matter of months, a decision that helped break a diplomatic logjam with Germany over how best to help Kyiv in its war against Russia.

President Joe Biden delivered an address from the White House Wednesday to announce the United States will be providing 31 M1 Abrams tanks -- the equivalent of one Ukrainian tank battalion -- for Kyiv's fight to drive Russia out of its territory.

Biden thanked Germany for its decision to supply Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks, and listed the other on-the-ground military hardware NATO allies and other European countries were supplying. "Germany has really stepped up," he said.

"The expectation on the part of Russia is we’re going to break up,” Biden said of the U.S. and European allies. “But we are fully, totally and thoroughly united.”

Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday thanked US President Joe Biden for his decision to send Abrams tanks to his war-torn country.

"It's an important step on the path to victory," Zelensky tweeted, thanking Biden for his "powerful" decision.

Germany announced earlier Wednesday that it plans to send an initial company of 14 Leopard 2 tanks from its own stocks, and also approve shipments by allies who field them, with the aim of supplying Ukraine with two full battalions. A battalion normally comprises three to four companies.

Germany is also granting approval for other European countries to send the German-made tanks from their own stocks to Ukraine, with the aim of quickly assembling two tank battalions.

Berlin will train Ukrainian forces to use the tanks in Germany, as well as provide logistics, ammunition and maintenance for the vehicles.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday thanked his German counterpart Olaf Scholz, saying "German main battle tanks, further broadening of defense support and training missions, green light for partners to supply similar weapons. Just heard about these important and timely decisions in a call with Olaf Scholz,"

Zelenskyy added he was "sincerely grateful to the Chancellor and all our friends."

Scholz, who had faced accusations of dithering over whether to send the tanks, defended his stance during question time at parliament.

"I want to say explicitly that it was right and it is right that we did not let ourselves be pushed into this but that we rely on and also continue on close cooperation in such a matter," he said.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said "At a critical moment in Russia's war, these can help Ukraine to defend itself, win (and) prevail as an independent nation."

"We need a lot of Leopards," the head of Ukraine's presidential administration Andriy Yermak said on social media.

Twenty armies worldwide field Leopards, which Germany has made in their thousands. Poland and Finland pledged them contingent on Berlin's own action, and several other countries are expected to follow swiftly.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Wednesday thanked Germany for approving the delivery of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and providing a company of them from Berlin's own stocks.

"Thank you @Bundeskanzler (German Chancellor) Olaf Scholz. The decision to send Leopards to Ukraine is a big step towards stopping Russia. Together we are stronger," Morawiecki said on Twitter.

Sweden's defense minister said Wednesday he does not "exclude" Stockholm sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, after Germany gave the greenlight for them to be given to Kyiv.

"I don't exclude the possibility that we can do that in the future, working with other countries," Defense Minister Pal Jonson told AFP in an interview.

"We could possibly contribute in various ways. It could be related to logistics, maintenance, training, but also tanks as such."

Britain has already offered a company of its comparable Challengers and France is considering sending its Leclercs.

The question of whether to send heavy tanks dominated debate for weeks among allies over how best to support Ukraine, and became an intense domestic political issue in Germany, which replaced its defense minister last week.

Germany's Leopards are available in much larger numbers than other European heavy tanks and easier to deploy and maintain than the fuel-hungry turbine-powered Abrams.

Mark Hertling, a former commander of U.S. ground forces in Europe, estimated Leopards could be on the battlefield in Ukraine as soon as March, while the U.S. tanks, which need more logistical support, could be more than eight months away.

In response, Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensyy's administration, wrote on Telegram "A few hundred tanks for our tank crews .... This is what is going to become a real punching fist of democracy."

In the past week, Russia has ramped up its threats, with Putin ally Dmitry Medvedev saying openly that a nuclear power that faced defeat could use nuclear weapons. Wednesday's announcements triggered more protests from Moscow.

Western officials who support sending the tanks have dismissed Russia's threats as bluster, arguing that Russia is already waging war at full tilt in Ukraine, and has been deterred from attacking NATO or using nuclear arms.

Apart from its military significance, the decision to send tanks removes one of the last taboos in Western support: against providing weapons that have a mainly offensive rather than defensive purpose.

This report was prepared using data from Reuters and Agence France-Presse.