Biden announces 31 Abrams tanks for Ukraine, but says the move is not meant to escalate the war.

Biden Says the United States Will Send M1 Abrams Tanks to UkrainePresident Biden announced that his administration would arm Ukraine with 31 of the United States’ most advanced tank.CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Biden announced on Wednesday that he would send M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine to help it defend against Russian invaders, a decision meant to unlock a wave of heavier aid by Western allies in preparation for an expected escalation of fighting in the spring.

Speaking at the White House after a morning of telephone calls to European allies, Mr. Biden said that the United States would send 31 Abrams tanks, the equivalent of a Ukrainian battalion, and that Germany would follow through by contributing its own Leopard 2 tanks and freeing other allies to send their own, the equivalent of two more battalions.

“These tanks are further evidence of our enduring, unflagging commitment to Ukraine and our confidence in the skill of Ukrainian forces,” Mr. Biden said, flanked by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III.

But he emphasized that the buildup was not meant to expand the war into Russia. “It is not an offensive threat to Russia,” he said. “There is no offensive threat to Russia. If Russian troops return to Russia, where they belong, this war would be over today.”

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, who has pressed for the Leopards to counter Russia’s advantage in arms and men, expressed gratitude for the U.S. decision. Writing on Twitter, he called it “an important step on the path to victory,” and said, “Today the free world is united as never before for a common goal — liberation of Ukraine,” with an icon of the country’s flag representing its name. “We’re moving forward.”

The Pentagon had long been reluctant to send the Abrams, in part because they are exceptionally complex machines that are challenging to operate and maintain. As it is, officials have said it could take a year or even longer for them to actually reach the battlefield in Ukraine.

But Mr. Austin came around to the move in order to spur Germany to send its own Leopard 2 tanks, which some military experts believe could be critical. Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced it had agreed to do so on Wednesday, just hours before Mr. Biden spoke.

Just last week, Mr. Scholz had refused to send the Leopards, or to allow other European countries to send their own German-built Leopards. The Germans made clear they would only back down and send the Leopards if the United States sent its own Abrams tanks.

Mr. Biden spoke with Mr. Scholz on Wednesday morning to coordinate his announcement, and also called Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Britain, President Emmanuel Macron of France and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni of Italy.

“Germany has really stepped up,” Mr. Biden told reporters in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. When a reporter asked if Germany forced him to change his mind on the Abrams, the president said: “Germany didn’t force me to change my mind. I wanted to make sure we are all together.”

Mr. Biden noted that Wednesday was the birthday of President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, who has pressed for the Leopards to counter Russia’s advantage in arms and men. The president recalled that when they met in Washington in December, he vowed to the visiting Ukrainian leader that “we’re with you as long as it takes.”

“Ukrainians are fighting an age-old battle against aggression and domination,” Mr. Biden added. “It’s a battle Americans have fought proudly time and again. And it’s a battle that we’re going to make sure Ukrainians are well equipped to fight as well.”

New York Times – January 25, 2023

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