The US and Germany both said Wednesday they would send dozens of tanks to Ukraine.
Berlin officials said they would send 14 of their own tanks, and will allow others to send their own German-made tanks, in an about-face from its previous position. US President Joe Biden followed suit shortly thereafter, announcing plans to send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine.
Ukraine has requested modern tanks from its allies for months, but only the UK had so far responded, pledging to send 14 of its Challenger 2 tanks.
Kyiv has said a number of times that it needs hundreds of tanks to fight Russia, particularly ahead of expected spring offensives.
Zelensky said Tuesday that a decision on tanks is needed, as Russia is preparing “for a new wave of aggression with the forces it can mobilize.”
Zelensky thanked US President Joe Biden for his decision to provide Kyiv with 31 Abrams tanks as well as training and maintenance support.
He said the transfer of M1A1 Abrams tanks is, “an important step on the path to victory.”
“Today the free world is united as never before for a common goal – liberation of Ukraine,” he added.
The Biden administration approved a $400 million in fresh military aid for Ukraine that will include the 31 US-made M1A1 Abrams tanks.
Russia has expressed mounting fury at the prospect of modern Western tanks being sent to Ukraine, calling it “extremely dangerous” and saying previous “red lines” were now a thing of the past.
The Russian Embassy in Berlin called the German government’s decision “extremely dangerous” and said it “takes the conflict to a new level of confrontation” while the foreign ministry warned that “red lines” were a “thing of the past” as it slammed what is saw as the West waging a “hybrid war” against Russia.
The use of modern Western tanks by Ukraine is likely to add momentum to its efforts to push Russian forces out of occupied areas of the country, particularly the eastern Donbas region, but Russia sees the gift of tanks as further evidence that the West is fighting what it sees as a proxy war against it in Ukraine.
Training for Abrams tanks will take place outside of Ukraine, White House says
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the Pentagon’s upcoming training for Ukrainians using the M1A1 Abrams tanks will take place outside of Ukraine.
Kirby said the US has not yet decided on a specific location or timing for the training.
He also said that the Pentagon does not have extra tanks to pull from its current arsenal to provide for Ukraine.
“We just don’t have them,” Kirby said, adding that “even if there were excess tanks it would still take many months anyway.” He also declined to provide a timeline of when the M1A1 Abrams tanks would be ready for Ukrainian forces.
Germany to send Starlink internet terminals to Ukraine
Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister for Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov said on Telegram that Germany plans to transfer a batch of Starlink terminals to Kyiv.
Starlink, the satellite internet arm of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, has been crucial in keeping Ukraine’s military online during the war against Russia, even as communication infrastructure gets destroyed.
Last year, Musk reversed his previous decision to cut off funding for Starlink in Ukraine.
“The hell with it,” the billionaire later tweeted, “even though Starlink is still losing money & other companies are getting billions of taxpayer $, we’ll just keep funding the Ukraine govt for free.”
State Department denies reports outlining riff between Washington and Berlin over tanks for Ukraine
The State Department downplayed reports that Germany and the US were at odds over whether to provide Ukraine with Leopard 2 and M1A1 Abrams tanks.
“Time and again, Germany has proven itself as a stalwart ally of the United States,” Price said, adding that Berlin and Washington have only had constructive discussions in the weeks leading up to the separate security assistance announcements.
Earlier on Wednesday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that Berlin would provide Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks.
Germany said its goal was to “quickly assemble two tank battalions with Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine.” The country will supply 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks in what it called a “first step.”
Ukraine forces pull back from Donbas town after onslaught
Ukrainian forces have conducted an organized retreat from a town in the eastern region of the Donbas, an official said, in what amounted to a rare but modest battlefield triumph for Russia after a series of setbacks in its invasion that began almost 11 months ago.
The Ukrainian army retreated from the salt mining town of Soledar to “preserve the lives of personnel,” Serhii Cherevatyi, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s forces in the east, told The Associated Press.
The soldiers pulled back to previously prepared defensive positions, he said. Russia claimed almost two weeks ago that its forces had taken Soledar, but Ukraine denied it.
Moscow has portrayed the battle for the town, not far from the Donetsk province city of Bakhmut, as key to capturing all of Ukraine’s Donbas region, where Russia-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian troops for almost nine years and controlled some territory before Russia’s full-scale invasion.
Russian President Vladimir Putin cited the safety of ethnic Russians living in Donetsk and neighboring Luhansk province, which together make up the Donbas, as justification for the invasion. Putin illegally annexed the Ukrainian provinces and two others in late September.
The withdrawal of Ukraine’s troops from Soledar takes the Russian forces a step closer to Bakhmut, but military analysts say the town’s capture is more symbolic than strategic. The fighting in eastern Ukraine has stood mostly at a stalemate for months.