Ukraine has hailed ground-breaking decisions by the United States and Germany to provide it with modern battle tanks, but Russia called the move an “extremely dangerous” escalation that would not help Kyiv’s military triumph on the battlefield.
US president Joe Biden announced an order to send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, hours after Berlin pledged to transfer 14 of its Leopard tanks as part of plans for several European states to deliver a total of about 80 of the German-made vehicles to Ukraine.
“With spring approaching, Ukrainian forces are working to defend the territory they hold and preparing for additional counter offences ... To liberate their land, they need to be able to counter Russia’s evolving tactics and strategy on the battlefield in the very near term,” Mr Biden said on Wednesday, adding that US training for Ukrainian tank crews would start “as soon as possible”.
Mr Biden said the tanks would help Ukraine “defend its sovereignty” and did not pose a threat to the territory of Russia, which launched a full invasion of its neighbour 11 months ago that has now killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions.
“That’s what this is about. Helping Ukraine defend and protect Ukrainian land. It is not an offensive threat to Russia. There is no offensive threat,” he added.
Mr Biden praised Germany for overcoming deep qualms about sending tanks to Kyiv, and said the co-ordinated effort showed the unity of Kyiv’s allies: “The expectation on the part of Russia is we’re going to break up. But we are fully, totally and thoroughly united.”
Poland, Finland, Norway, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands are among operators of the Leopard that have indicated a willingness to transfer them to Ukraine, in a move that requires the permission of Germany as manufacturer of the vehicles.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy thanked Mr Biden for “another powerful decision” and the American people “for leadership support”.
“It’s an important step on the path to victory. Today the free world is united as never before for a common goal – liberation of Ukraine. We’re moving forward,” he added.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the plan to send Abrams tanks to Ukraine was “doomed to failure in technological terms ... and a clear overestimation of the potential that [the tanks] will add to the armed forces of Ukraine”.
“We repeat that these tanks will burn like all the others,” he added.
Russian ambassador to Germany Sergei Nechayev said Berlin had made an “extremely dangerous decision [that] moves the conflict to a new level of confrontation and contradicts the statements of German politicians about [Berlin’s] unwillingness to be drawn into it”.