The United States and Germany announced on Wednesday that they would send heavy tanks to Ukraine, setting aside long-standing hesitations by signaling forcefully Western backing for a counteroffensive capable of driving Russia back.
In a televised speech, President Joe Biden promised 31 Abrams tanks, one of the most powerful and sophisticated weapons in the US military.
Shortly before, Chancellor Olaf Scholz gave Germany the green light to send 14 Leopard 2 tanks, a decision that opens the floodgates for several other European countries with Leopard stocks to send their own contributions.
Although Western countries have already sent Ukraine everything from artillery to Patriot missile defense systems, tanks have long been considered a step further, with the risk of an increasing backlash from Russia.
But with Ukraine preparing for a counteroffensive against the Russians, increasingly entrenched in the east and south of the country, the allies are now rushing to send in the vital weapon.
Flanked by his Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Biden said increasing Western armaments for Ukraine’s military should not be seen as an attack on Russia.
“This is about helping Ukraine defend and protect its territory. It is not an offensive threat to Russia. There is no offensive threat to Russia,” Biden said.
Ukrainians, who have been pressing Western capitals for months to end arms restrictions so their troops can face the more heavily armed Russians, welcomed the news.
President Volodymyr Zelensky called the promise of the Abrams tanks “an important step on the road to victory.”
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Malyar claimed that Russia, with its “superior number of soldiers and weapons”, is “trying to break through” in the Donbas region.
President Zelensky asked the West for long-range missiles and fighter planes. “Long-range missile deliveries to Ukraine should be made possible,” he said on social media.
Russia made it clear that sending heavy tanks would cross a dangerous new line. Moscow’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, said US approval for the Abrams renditions would be “another blatant provocation against the Russian Federation.”
And Russia’s ambassador to Germany Sergei Nechaev also warned that the “extremely dangerous decision brings the conflict to a new level of confrontation and contradicts the statements of German politicians about the unwillingness of the German Federation to get involved in it.” .
The news of the tank supply comes as Russia announces progress in Bakhmut, a city in eastern Ukraine that has withstood months of attacks.