Washington, DC – The United States will supply Ukraine with Abrams tanks, President Joe Biden has announced, as Washington and its European allies step up their military aid for Kyiv.
Biden said on Wednesday that the Abrams tanks, which he described as the “most capable” in the world, will help Ukraine defend its territorial integrity against what he called Russia’s “brutal” aggression against its neighbour.
Biden told reporters at the White House that the tanks highlight America’s “enduring” commitment to Ukraine.
“They need to be able to counter Russia’s evolving tactics and strategy on the battlefield in the very near term,” Biden said of Ukrainian forces.
“They need to improve their ability to manoeuvre in open terrain, and they need an enduring capability to deter and defend against Russian aggression over the long term.”
The US move comes less than 24 hours after Germany announced that it agreed to send 14 of its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine after weeks of debate over the decision.
On Wednesday, Biden lauded the German move and stressed Western unity against the Russian invasion, saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin failed in his efforts to drive a wedge between the US and European powers.
The White House said earlier in the day that Biden held a phone call with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom to discuss the allies’ “close coordination on support for Ukraine”.
The US president acknowledged delivering the tanks to Ukraine will “take time”, saying that Washington will use that time to ensure that Ukrainians are “fully prepared” to integrate the fighting vehicles into their defences.
The US has previously trained Ukrainian forces on new weapon systems outside Ukraine.
Separately, White House spokesperson John Kirby told MSNBC News that the Abrams tanks require a “pretty hefty supply chain” and that it will take “many months” to deliver them, but the US will train Ukrainian forces on the “sophisticated” equipment.
“The idea is really to show we’ve got a long-term commitment to the kinds of fighting that we think the Ukrainians are going to be doing,” Kirby said.
He later told reporters during a briefing that the tanks will take “months” to arrive in Ukraine.
“It’s not just about how to operate the Abrams… it’s how to maintain them, and it’s how to have an organic supply chain process or logistical sustainment process, so that you can keep them maintained and in the fight over the long haul,” Kirby added.
Russia launched its all-out invasion of Ukraine on February 24 – 11 months ago – after a months-long standoff that saw Moscow amass troops near the Ukrainian borders as Putin demanded an end to NATO expansion into former Soviet republics.
Moscow’s war campaign has been mired by military setbacks, as Western powers continue to provide financial and military support to Kyiv.
Russian officials have said that sending arms to Ukraine prolongs and intensifies the conflict. On Wednesday, the Russian embassy in Berlin warned that supplying tanks to Ukraine would lead to a “permanent escalation”.
But Biden said that US and European support for Kyiv is defensive in nature.
“There is no offensive threat to Russia,” he said. “If Russian troops returned to Russia – where they belong – this war would be over today. That’s what we all want: an end to this war in justice and lasting terms.”
Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett, reporting from Washington, said after Biden’s remarks that the US president wanted to calm fears at home of escalation with Russia.
“The US president [was] speaking as much to the world as he is to a domestic audience when he said that this is very much about protecting Ukraine … that this is about making sure that Ukrainians are protected and nothing more,” she said.
Support for Ukraine in the US Congress has been overwhelming and bipartisan, but some far-right Republicans have been increasingly sceptical of continuing aid to Kyiv.
Still, on Wednesday, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell welcomed moves by Washington and Berlin to supply Kyiv with tanks.
“I was happy to learn yesterday and this morning that – indeed – both the White House and their counterparts in Germany are finally moving forward with these overdue steps,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.