In reverse, the US is about to approve Abrams tanks for Ukraine

WASHINGTON (AP) — In what would be a sea change, the Biden administration is about to approve the shipment of M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine and the US.

WASHINGTON (AP) — In what would be a setback, the Biden administration is poised to approve the shipment of M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, U.S. officials said Tuesday, as international reluctance to send tanks to the front lines against the Russians begins to erode. The decision could be announced on Wednesday, although delivery of the tanks could take months or years.

US officials said details are still being worked out. An official said the tanks would be purchased as part of a forthcoming package from Ukraine’s Security Assistance Initiative, which provides more far-reaching funds to buy weapons and equipment from commercial suppliers.

The US announcement is expected in coordination with an announcement by Germany that it will approve Poland’s request to transfer German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, according to an official. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has not yet been made public.

By agreeing to send the Abrams at an as-yet-unspecified time under the assistance initiative, the administration can meet German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s demand for a US commitment without having to send the tanks immediately.

Much of the aid sent so far in the 11-month war has been through a separate program that draws on Pentagon stocks to get weapons to Ukraine more quickly. But even under that program, it would take months to get tanks into Ukraine and train Ukrainian forces on them.

It is unknown how many tanks would be approved.

Until now, the US has resisted providing its own M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, citing extensive and complex logistical and maintenance challenges with the high-tech vehicles. Washington believes it would be more productive to send German leopards since many allies have them and Ukrainian troops would need less training than on the more difficult Abrams.

Just last week, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl told reporters that the Abrams is a complicated, expensive, hard-to-maintain and hard-to-train team. One thing Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has been very focused on, he said, “is that we shouldn’t be providing the Ukrainians with systems they can’t fix, they can’t maintain, and in the long run they can’t afford, because it’s not useful.”

A US official familiar with White House thinking said the administration’s initial hesitation was based on concerns about the necessary training and sustainment of the tanks. The official added that the administration believes such plans already exist, but it could take time to implement them.

At the Pentagon, spokesman Brig. General Pat Ryder said he had nothing to announce on any US decision regarding the Abrams tanks. But he said, “whenever we have provided Ukraine with a type of system, we have provided the training and maintenance capabilities with that.”

The administration change comes just days after a coalition of more than 50 top defense officials from Europe and beyond met in Germany to discuss Ukraine’s war needs, with main battle tanks being a main topic.

Ukrainian leaders have been urgently requesting tanks, but Germany has resisted mounting pressure to supply its own tanks or clear the way for other countries, such as Poland, to send in German-made tanks from their own stocks. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the deployment of Western tanks would trigger “unequivocally negative” consequences.

Defense leaders from countries that have Leopard 2 tanks met with the Germans during a conference on Friday at the Ramstein airbase in an effort to reach an agreement.

On Sunday, Berlin indicated that it would not stand in the way if other countries wanted to send Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv. Germany must agree to the tanks being delivered to Ukraine, which is not a NATO member.

American and German officials have given mixed signals about whether the US and German decisions are linked, and whether Berlin was hesitant to send its tanks unless the US sent Abrams.

Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak said Tuesday that Poland has officially requested permission from Germany to transfer its Leopard 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine.

German officials confirmed to the dpa news agency that they had received the application and said it would be evaluated “with due urgency.” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Sunday that Berlin will not seek to stop Poland from providing the high-tech armor to Kyiv.

German officials declined to comment on reports of a tank deal. The news weekly Der Spiegel reported on Tuesday, without citing a source, that Germany will provide Ukraine with at least one company of Leopard 2 tanks from its own army’s stocks. Scholz is due to address parliament on Wednesday and answer questions from lawmakers, many of whom have been pressing the government to join allies in providing the tanks to Ukraine.

Congressional lawmakers have also been pressuring the United States to increase its aid to Ukraine.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that “it’s time, it’s over” for the Biden administration and its allies to send more military aid to Ukraine, and that the United States should provide more tanks and weapons to help Ukraine “win this war”.

“It is time, it is over, for the Biden administration and our allies to get serious about helping Ukraine finish the job and take back their country.”

The likely plans to ship the Abramses were first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

____ Associated Press writers Tara Copp, Kevin Freking and Aamer Madhani contributed to this report.

Lolita C. Baldor and Matthew Lee, Associated Press