In reversal, US agrees to send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine

President Joe Biden announced the decision Wednesday in remarks at the White House.

 A destroyed Ukrainian tank is pictured on the front line near the industrial town of Avdiyivka, Ukraine February 4, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS/GLEB GARANICH)
A destroyed Ukrainian tank is pictured on the front line near the industrial town of Avdiyivka, Ukraine February 4, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS/GLEB GARANICH)

The United States announced on Wednesday it will supply Ukraine with 31 advanced M1 Abrams tanks 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 was announcing the decision in remarks at the White House. The United States had been cool to the idea of deploying the difficult-to-maintain Abrams tanks but had to change tack in order to persuade Germany to send its more easily used Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

Months, not weeks for the Abrams to be delivered

Still, the Abrams -- among the most powerful US tanks -- will not be heading to Ukraine anytime soon.

Senior administration officials who briefed reporters on the decision said it will take months, not weeks, for the Abrams to be delivered and described the move in terms of providing for Ukraine's long-term defense.

 Spanish army tank Leopard 2 of NATO enhanced Forward Presence battle group fires during the final phase of the Silver Arrow 2022 military drill on Adazi military training grounds, Latvia September 29, 2022.  (credit: INTS KALNINS / REUTERS) Spanish army tank Leopard 2 of NATO enhanced Forward Presence battle group fires during the final phase of the Silver Arrow 2022 military drill on Adazi military training grounds, Latvia September 29, 2022. (credit: INTS KALNINS / REUTERS)

Members of the Ukrainian military will be trained on using the Abrams in a yet-to-be determined location. While a highly sophisticated and expensive weapon, the Abrams is difficult to maintain and provides a logistical resupply challenge because it runs on jet fuel.

The total cost of a single Abrams tanks can vary, and can be over $10 million per tanks when including training and sustainment.

The decisions by Washington and Berlin come as the Western allies help Ukraine prepare for a possible spring counter-offensive to try to drive Russia out of territory it has seized.

Senior administration officials said Biden had spoken to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on multiple occasions this month about assistance to Ukraine. He talked again on Wednesday to Scholz as well as to British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron, both of whom are close allies in helping Ukraine.

"Today's announcement really was a product of good diplomatic conversations as part of our regular and ongoing close consultations with allies and partners on security assistance to Ukraine," said one official.

More announcements from US allies on additional armored vehicle capability are expected, the official said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said any Abrams shipments would be a waste of money as they "burn" like other tanks.

"I am certain that many experts understand the absurdity of this idea. The plan is disastrous in terms of technology," he said. "But above all, it overestimates the potential it will add to the Ukrainian army. These tanks burn just like all the others," Peskov told reporters.

"I am certain that many experts understand the absurdity of this idea. The plan is disastrous in terms of technology."

Dmitry Peskov

A source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Tuesday the US decision on Abrams was part of conversations with the Germans about their reluctance to provide tanks and to demonstrate that the US commitment was significant.

"The United States was willing to make a significant commitment to assist them in making theirs," the source said. "The tanks are an important capability and if it took US  leadership then that's what we were willing to do."

The United States will provide the M1 Abrams tanks through a fund known as the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which allows Biden's administration to buy weapons from industry rather than taking them from existing US weapons stocks. Buying them is a slower process.

Zelensky calls US Abrams tanks move 'important step on the path to victory'

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the US announcement it would send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine an "important step on the path to victory."

In a tweet, he added, "Today the free world is united as never before for a common goal," which he described as the liberation of Ukraine.

Norway says it will send tanks to Ukraine

Norway will send German-made tanks to Ukraine as part of a group of Western nations supplying the arms, Norwegian Defence Minister Bjoern Arild Gram told public broadcaster NRK on Wednesday.

He declined to say how many tanks Norway would deliver.