US President Biden announced Wednesday that he plans to send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, reversing the administration’s longstanding resistance to requests from Kyiv for the highly sophisticated but maintenance-heavy vehicles.
Biden said in White House remarks that this US support is about helping Ukraine “defend its sovereignty” and that sending tanks does not mean it is an “offensive threat.”
Biden’s announcement came after Germany confirmed earlier Wednesday that it would send 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine from its own stock. The two nations had appeared to be in standoff as German officials indicated Berlin would only send their Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine if the US sent the M-1 Abrams tanks.
If you are just reading in, here’s what you need to know about today’s developments:
Why this is significant: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told CNN’s Kate Bolduan on “At This Hour” Wednesday that the tanks “will significantly strengthen” Kyiv’s combat capabilities. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has consistently asked Western allies for modern tanks as his country prepares for an expected major Russian counteroffensive in the spring.
With both the US and Germany pledging to send tanks to Ukraine, other countries, especially those with the German-made tanks, have also announced contributions to the front lines. CNN cannot confirm the total number of Leopard 2 tanks to be delivered, but pledges made by multiple countries so far mean the Ukrainian military is in line to receive dozens of the tanks. Germany’s main governing party said on Wednesday that Ukraine’s Western allies will send the country a total of around 80 Leopard 2 main battle tanks.
Why send tanks now: Sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine will provide Kyiv’s forces with a modern and powerful military vehicle ahead of a potential Russian spring offensive. It will also come as a blow to the Kremlin, which has seen a growing campaign to equip Ukrainian troops with high-tech fighting systems as Russia’s ground war nears the one-year mark.
Speaking ahead of Biden’s announcement, senior US officials framed the decision as an investment in Ukraine’s “longer term capabilities,” an indication the administration sees the now 11-month-long war extending well into the future. Ukraine hopes the new tanks can help it retake territory seized by Russia, including in the Donbas. That could also include Crimea, the peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.
Possible challenges: The Abrams tanks will take months to arrive, senior Biden administration officials said, and will require extensive training for Ukrainian troops on how to operate and service them. The US must navigate complicated supply chains for the components required for the tanks.
The procurement process will take months, the officials said, though Germany’s Leopards will arrive in the nearer term. In the meantime, the US will begin a “comprehensive training program” for the Ukrainians on the Abrams, which will require significant maintenance once they are deployed. The training will occur outside Ukraine.
The Portuguese foreign minister said Wednesday it will take two to three months before Western-donated Leopard 2 tanks are fully operational in Ukraine.
Watch CNN’s Jim Sciutto break down the latest on the tanks:
CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Stephanie Halasz, Sophie Tanno and Sugam Pokharel contributed reporting to this post.