WASHINGTON (AP) — In what would be a reversal, the Biden administration is poised to approve sending M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, US officials said Tuesday, as international reluctance to send tanks to the battlefront against the Russians begins to erode. The decision could be announced as soon as Wednesday, although it could take months or years for the tanks to be delivered.
US officials said details are still being worked out. One official said the tanks would be bought under an upcoming Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative package, which provides longer-range funding for weapons and equipment to be purchased from commercial vendors.
The US announcement is expected to come on Wednesday 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 one official. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has not yet been made public.
Weapons provided through USAI can take many months to several years to reach the battlefield. Much of the aid sent so far has been through a separate program drawing on Pentagon stocks to get weapons more quickly to Ukraine. But even under that program, it would take months to get tanks to Ukraine and to get Ukrainian forces trained on them.
It’s also 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 maintenance and logistical 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.
The likely plans to send the Abrams were first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
It’s not clear why the administration changed its mind on sending the Abrams. The reversal comes just days after a coalition of more than 50 senior defense officials from Europe and beyond met in Germany to discuss Ukraine’s war needs, and battle tanks were a prime topic.
Ukrainian leaders have been urgently requesting tanks, but Germany had resisted mounting pressure either to supply its own tanks or clear the way for other countries, such as Poland, to send from their own stocks. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the deployment of Western tanks would trigger “unambiguously negative” consequences.
Defense leaders from the countries that have Leopard 2 tanks met with the Germans during the Friday conference at Ramstein Air Base in an effort to hammer out an agreement.
On Sunday, Berlin indicated it wouldn’t stand in the way if other countries wanted to send the German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv. Germany needs to agree for the tanks to be given to Ukraine, which is not a member of NATO.
US 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 battle tanks to Ukraine.
German officials confirmed to the dpa news agency that they had received the application and said it would be assessed “with due urgency.” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Sunday that Berlin would not seek to stop Poland from providing the high-tech armor to Kyiv.
Lawmakers in Congress have also been pushing the US to beef up its aid to Ukraine.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday “it’s time, past time” for the Biden administration and allies to send more military aid to Ukraine, and that the US must provide more tanks and weapons to help Ukraine “win this war.”
“It’s time, past time, for the Biden administration and our allies to get serious about helping Ukraine finish the job and retake their country.”
____ Associated Press writers Tara Copp and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.