US finalizes plans to send Abrams tanks to Ukraine, officials say
Washington (CNN) — The Biden administration is finalizing plans to send US-made Abrams tanks to Ukraine and could make the announcement as early as this week, according to three officials familiar with the deliberations.
The timing of the actual delivery of the tanks has yet to be defined and it normally takes several months to train troops to use the tanks effectively, the officials said.
An announcement about these tanks could be part of an attempt to break a diplomatic logjam with Germany, which told the US last week it would not send its Leopard tanks to Ukraine unless Washington also agreed to send its M1 Abrams tanks.
Senior government national security officials have been actively considering the steps they might take to convince Germany to ultimately send the Leopards.
Last Friday, at a meeting of Western defense leaders in Germany, the US and its allies failed to convince German officials to send the Leopards as part of Berlin’s next round of military assistance to Ukraine. But on Tuesday, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said: “We are preparing our decision, which will happen very soon” on the tanks.
Later on Tuesday, the German newspaper Der Spiegel reported that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had decided to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine after “months of debate.”
CNN has reached out to the German government for comment.
The Biden administration has never completely ruled out sending tanks from the United States, but US officials said publicly last week that now is not the right time to send the M1 Abrams 70-ton tanks because they are expensive and require a significant amount of training to operate.
Instead, tanks have been repeatedly raised as a long-term option, even as critics say now is the right time, as Ukraine braces for the possibility of Russia mobilizing more troops and launching a new offensive.
Sky News Arabia was first to report the news that the United States is considering sending the tanks.
Ukraine’s President Volodomyr Zelensky has consistently asked Western allies for modern tanks as his country prepares for a major Russian counteroffensive expected in the spring.
The UK has already announced it will send 12 of its Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, crossing what appeared to be a red line for the US and its European allies. A US announcement that it will send tanks would increase pressure on Germany as it decides whether to authorize a shipment of Leopards. There are believed to be around 2,000 in Europe and Poland formally asked Berlin on Tuesday to approve the transfer of some of its Leopards to Ukraine.
Any announcement would be a long-term contribution from Abrams, meaning the Ukrainians won’t have them on the ground anytime soon due to training and establishing the sustainment framework, a former defense official with knowledge of the deliberations told CNN. . For now, the pending US announcement is more to make Germany more comfortable providing its own tanks.
“These are not going to be tanks that are going to be on the ground next week or next month,” the former official said.
Given last week’s announcement of a $2.5bn reduction in US shares to send to Ukraine, the announcement is unlikely to be another reduction. Instead, the supply of tanks to Ukraine could come from a new contract under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI) or a refurbishment of M-1 Abrams tanks from another country such as Poland, which recently closed a deal to buy more Abrams and has expressed insistence on sending tanks to Ukraine.
Either scenario gives the US more time and space to acquire, train and equip Ukraine with the tanks that are complex to operate. Ukrainian forces are already training on several new and advanced systems. That list includes training on Patriot missiles, UK-made Challenger 2 tanks, M109 howitzers and more, as well as combined arms training that recently began in Germany.
The tanks represent the most powerful direct offensive weapon provided to Ukraine so far, a heavily armed system designed to engage the enemy head-on rather than fire from a distance. If used correctly with the necessary training, they could allow Ukraine to retake territory against Russian forces that have had time to dig defensive lines. The United States began supplying refurbished Soviet-era T-72 tanks, but modern Western tanks are a generation ahead in terms of their ability to attack enemy positions.
Pentagon and White House officials deny that the risk of an escalation with Russia had anything to do with the US decision to delay sending the tanks. Rather, the concern has been how difficult it would be for Ukrainian forces to operate and maintain the Abrams tank and whether it would be effective on the battlefield in Ukraine.
CNN’s Haley Britzky, Jennifer Hansler, Lauren Kent and Mick Krever contributed to this report.