Biden Reverses Course, Agrees to Supply Ukraine With Abrams Tanks | National News – US NEWS

Eyeing a renewed Russian offensive in Ukraine expected in the spring, President Joe Biden announced Wednesday the United States will send 31 top-tier battle tanks, the M1 Abrams, to help Ukraine defend itself and on the battlefield and eventually at the negotiating table while clearing the way for embattled European allies to make similar pledges.

The decision represents a reversal from the Biden administration’s approach to helping Ukraine, with the president reluctant to send a signal that the United States is either a participant in the war or making a move against Russia, which could provoke Russian President Vladimir Putin to cast the Western involvement as an attack on his country. That could trigger a potentially cataclysmic war between Russia and NATO – something no member of the security alliance wants.

But providing the tanks, along with other help from allies, is meant to change the game on the battlefield as the Russian invasion of its western neighbor approaches the one-year mark.

In remarks at the White House, Biden said the announcement, along with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s agreement to send Leopard 2 tanks, was a sign that the United States and its partners were united and would not give up on Ukraine.

“We are fully, totally and completely united,” Biden said. “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 to Russia if Russian troops return to Russia where they belong,” he added.

The Abrams tanks – enough to serve two Ukraine-sized battalions, which are smaller than American battalions – will not come from existing Department of Defense stock, since the Pentagon needs them, according to John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications. Kirby told reporters at the White House they instead will be procured, meaning it will take “many months” for the very sophisticated weaponry to reach Ukraine.

The Ukrainians will be trained in how to use and maintain the top-of-the-line tanks. That training will not occur in Ukraine, but a location has not yet been selected, Kirby said. Russia expressed outrage earlier this month at the administration’s unprecedented decision to bring dozens of Ukrainians to a base in Oklahoma to train on using the sophisticated Patriot missile systems the U.S. will provide. All other Western training for the Ukrainian military takes place on NATO bases in Europe.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly and consistently asked for more help – money, weapons and a “no-fly zone” over Ukraine to thwart Russian bomber planes. Biden has rejected a no-fly zone, amid worries it could escalate into a war between Russia and NATO.

The United States had never taken the offer of tanks off the table but had been holding off delivering the Abrams tanks. That changed after discussions between Biden and allies, including Scholz, who had been refusing to send the Leopard 2 tanks unless the United States offered up its Abrams weaponry.

A senior administration official told reporters shortly before Biden’s remarks that Scholz’s decision on Wednesday represented an “extraordinary shift in Germany’s security policy” but declined to say if either country’s decision derived from preconditions – particularly that Berlin would only commit to sending tanks if Washington did so first.

“Today’s announcement really was a product of good diplomatic conversations and part of our regular and ongoing close consultations with allies and partners on security assistance to Ukraine,” the official said.

Cartoons on Ukraine and Russia

Biden said it wasn’t Scholz who provoked the change in U.S. policy.

“Germany didn’t force me to change our minds,” Biden said in response to a question. The allies and partners of Ukraine “wanted to make sure we’re all together,” he said.

Kirby on Wednesday also rejected the suggestion that sending the Abrams tanks gave “cover” to Scholz to make Germany’s contributions.

“What this decision does is show how united we are with our partners,” Kirby said Wednesday after Biden was in a strategy call with Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

“It’s about coordination, It’s about the unity here.”

The decision, which Biden announced while flanked by his secretary of state and the secretary of defense, also defies assertions from the Pentagon as recently as last week. Top military officials had previously said the Abrams is too complex for Ukrainian troops to operate – at least within a time frame that would make a difference for the rapidly changing battlefield realities. Unlike the diesel-fueled European tanks that Ukraine will soon receive, Abrams tanks require jet fuel, which is not as easily accessible in the former Soviet country – one of several nuances that defense officials considered prohibitive.

Defense and White House officials would not comment Wednesday on what has changed since making those assertions. An administration official told reporters that the new package would include support vehicles for the Abrams, including those designed specifically to accompany the tanks in conflict zones and ensure they remain operational.

“We will have the ability to put in place a very careful training program, but also a very careful program to be able to maintain and sustain these tanks, which do require a good deal of assistance,” the official said.

The war rages consistently with tragic consequences, including the destruction of communities and the deaths of children. But even that is likely to increase once the ground begins to thaw in Ukraine, Kirby warned.

Now, there is some fighting in the Donbas region, he said. But “as the weather conditions improve, you can expect that the Russians will pick up the tempo,” he added. “It’s about Ukraine defending itself. It’s also about helping Ukraine go on the offense” when the weather gets less brutal, he said.

While it will take a while for the Abrams tanks to arrive – and for Ukrainians to be trained on how to use and maintain them – the Leopard 2 tanks can get to Ukraine far more quickly, he said.

Biden from the start has talked about the war in Ukraine as a conflict that would not end quickly or easily. Americans have been largely supportive of helping Ukraine. A December poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, for example, found that 65% of Americans support sending weapons, 66% support economic aid, and 75% support increasing sanctions on Russia.

But those numbers could erode quickly if the U.S. economy takes a downturn and Americans grow impatient with having their tax dollars sent overseas to help an allied country – especially if it appears there is no end in sight to the war.

Some Republicans on Capitol Hill have stated they will not vote for a single additional dollar to help Ukraine. And the GOP is pressuring Biden to make cuts in spending in exchange for voting to increase the debt ceiling, which is a way to pay for money Congress has already appropriated and spent.

With an expected run for reelection on the near horizon, Biden also does not want an ongoing war interfering with his message.

And that’s up to Putin, Biden said.

“If Russia chose to return to Russia, where they belong, this war would be over today,” Biden said. “That’s what we all want – an end to this war.”

– Paul D. Shinkman contributed to this report

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