The United States said on Wednesday it would supply 31 of its most advanced battle tanks to Ukraine after Germany broke a taboo with a similar announcement, moves Kyiv hailed as a potential turning point in its fight to fend off a Russian invasion.
The US decision to deliver M1 Abrams tanks helped break a diplomatic impasse with Germany over how best to aid Kyiv in its war with Russia, which hours earlier had condemned Berlin’s decision to deliver Leopard 2 tanks as a dangerous provocation.
Washington was wary of the idea of deploying the hard-to-maintain Abrams, but had to change tack to persuade Germany to send the easy-to-operate Leopard 2 tanks — the backbone of NATO armies across Europe — to Ukraine.
President Joe Biden announced the US decision in remarks at the White House, saying the tanks were needed to help the Ukrainians “improve their ability to maneuver in open terrain.”
Kyiv has been calling for months for Western main battle tanks that would give its forces greater firepower, protection and mobility to break through long-term front lines and possibly recapture occupied territories to the east and south.
Senior Biden administration officials said it would take months for Abrams to be handed over and described the move as providing for Ukraine’s long-term defense.
“There is no offensive threat to Russia (itself),” Biden said.
Moscow increasingly portrays the war as a fraught confrontation between Russia and the US-led NATO alliance.
“The road to victory”
The White House said Biden spoke on Wednesday with German Chancellor Olaf Schultz, French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Ministers Giorgia Meloni and Britain’s Rishi Sunak about close cooperation between their countries in support of Kyiv.
Germany said it would send an initial company of 14 Leopard 2 tanks from its own stocks and would also approve deliveries by allied European countries.
The ultimate goal would be to supply Ukraine with two battalions of Panthers, usually of three or four companies each, the first to arrive in three or four months.
“Germany will always be at the fore when it comes to supporting Ukraine,” Schultz told the German parliament, to applause.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed Washington’s decision on the Abrams tanks as “an important step on the road to victory” while thanking Mr. Schultz for the Panthers.
He tweeted: “The free world today is united more than ever before for a common goal,” which he described as the liberation of Ukraine.
Russia reacted angrily to Germany’s decision, saying Berlin was renouncing its “historic responsibility to Russia” stemming from Nazi crimes in World War II when Hitler’s forces invaded the Soviet Union.
US soldiers stand with an M1 Abrams tank in a wooded area during a multinational exercise. The United States has pledged to deliver 31 of the most advanced M1 tanks to Ukraine. Source: GT / Nicholas Armer
“This very serious decision takes the conflict to a new level of confrontation,” said Sergei Nechaev, Moscow’s ambassador to Germany.
Moscow says supplying modern offensive weapons to Ukraine will only delay what it says will be its inevitable victory.
Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to Washington, said that the delivery of American tanks would be “another flagrant provocation”.
Solidar is gone
Meanwhile, Ukraine on Wednesday acknowledged withdrawing its forces this month from Solidar, a town in the eastern Donetsk region that has seen some of the fiercest fighting in Russia’s nearly year-old invasion.
“We have been losing positions for two or three days, but now we are working to get back to what we had before,” said Igor, who is part of the air reconnaissance unit involved in the offensive.
Compared to the rest of the Donetsk industrial region, Solidar has seen some of the “worst fighting” over recent days.
The notorious Russian mercenary Wagner Group claimed to have led the attack on Solidar, claiming its capture on January 11th.
Moscow’s capture of Solidar was its first battlefield victory in months.
“Solidar is gone,” said deputy commander of the 144th Territorial Defense Battalion Volodymyr Leonov, 10 kilometers away, as soldiers were reconvening away from the front.
Leonov added that the fierce battle to prevent the Russian forces from achieving more gains has a negative impact. He said 27 soldiers had signed a letter stating that they would no longer go to combat sites.
It comes as Mr. Zelensky on Wednesday signed legislation toughening penalties for disobedience or desertion from the armed forces.