WASHINGTON: The United States and Germany on Wednesday announced deliveries of a total of 45 top-of-the-line tanks to Ukraine, sweeping aside their longstanding misgivings and signaling a new surge of Western support for an expected counter-offensive against Russian invasion.
In a televised address, President Joe Biden promised 31 Abrams tanks, hours after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz gave the go ahead for sending 14 Leopard-2 tanks to Kyiv.
The twin decisions open the floodgates to several other European countries with Leopard stocks to send their own contributions. Although Western countries have already sent Ukraine everything from artillery to Patriot anti-missile defense systems, tanks were long considered a step too far, risking a widening backlash from Russia.
Flanked by secretary of state, Antony Blinken, and defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, Biden said ramping up of Western armaments for Ukraine’s military should not be seen as an attack on Russia.
“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,” Biden said.
Crossing new line
President Volodymyr Zelensky called the pledge of US Abrams “an important step on the path to victory”, while Russia had made it clear sending heavy tanks would cross a dangerous new line.
Moscow’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, said US approval for Abrams deliveries would be “another blatant provocation against the Russian Federation”.
Russia’s ambassador to Germany, Sergei Nechaev, likewise warned that the “extremely dangerous decision takes the conflict to a new level of confrontation, and contradicts statements by German politicians about the unwillingness of the German Federation to get involved in it”.
Unlike the German tanks, which are ready to go, the M1 Abrams will have to be procured and will not arrive in Ukraine for months, a senior US official believed.
The 31 tanks will add up to one Ukrainian battalion. And the twin decisions galvanized multiple offers of more, with Norway offering two Leopards on Wednesday and Spain saying it would look at what it could send from its own stocks of the German-made tank.
Poland has already promised to be a major provider.
In Kyiv, Zelensky’s aide Yermak, said: “We need a lot of Leopards.” Biden spoke by phone about Ukraine with the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Italy, the White House said.
Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg “strongly” welcomed the decision by Germany.
Kyiv has been asking for around 300 Western tanks that would allow it to launch counter-offensives against Russian forces occupying its territory.
Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2023
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