U.S., Germany set to send tanks to Ukraine in face of Russian assault

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The United States and Germany were poised Tuesday to approve the transfer of U.S.-made M1 Abrams and German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, ending weeks of reluctance to send such powerful weapons to bolster Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s ongoing onslaught.

The Biden administration and officials in Berlin said final decisions had not been made as of Tuesday night, but multiple sources indicated that Germany could announce as early as Wednesday plans to proceed with the transfers and to allow other European nations such as Poland to send German-made tanks.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was scheduled to address his country’s parliament Wednesday. Several news outlets in Berlin reported that he had decided on the matter after days of pressure from the most pro-Ukraine members of NATO.

The tank transfers, which could take months to complete, would represent the most robust equipment provided by NATO nations to Ukraine since Russia invaded 11 months ago.

U.S. officials said they were working out details of M1 Abrams transfers and that the tanks would be provided under an upcoming Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative package, which gives longer-range funding for weapons and equipment for Kyiv.

An official U.S. announcement is expected in coordination with the German declaration, said one official who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

Germany made its decision during a pivotal moment in the war and after days of public complaints from Ukrainian officials that Berlin was delaying the delivery of the heaviest and most lethal weapons needed to counter Russia.

Britain said this month that it would be willing to provide its most advanced battle tank, the Challenger 2, to Kyiv.

Ukrainian officials have lamented that Germany’s indecision was halting other NATO members — most notably Poland — from providing tanks to push back Russian attacks that analysts say are likely to expand over the coming weeks.

Earlier Tuesday, Ukraine’s government underwent a major shake-up over corruption accusations.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was elected in 2019 on an anti-establishment and anti-corruption platform in a country long gripped by graft. The latest accusations of corruption erupted while the U.S. and other NATO allies were channeling billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine’s war effort.

Officials in Washington and other Western capitals have demanded more accountability from Kyiv in exchange for the aid.

Four Ukrainian deputy ministers and five governors of front-line provinces were expected to leave their posts Tuesday, according to a social media posting by the country’s Cabinet secretary.

Mr. Zelenskyy and his aides sought to portray the resignations as proof of their efforts to crack down on corruption, although the wartime scandal could play into Russian propaganda aimed at smearing the leadership in Kyiv.

Moscow has sought to capitalize on Western indecision over tank transfers. The Kremlin claimed that European reluctance to provide such weaponry signaled weakness among Ukraine’s backers.

Although multiple Biden administration officials told reporters that an M1 Abrams deal was on the table, the Pentagon declined to confirm whether a final decision had been made.

“I have nothing to announce today,” said Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder. “We continue to have a very robust dialogue with Ukraine and allies and partners to focus on what [Ukraine’s] battlefield needs are right now and in the near future.”

As late as last week, top Pentagon officials downplayed the chance that the M1 Abrams could soon appear on a Ukrainian battlefield.

“I just don’t think we’re there yet,” Colin Kahl, undersecretary of defense for policy, told reporters. He called the Abrams “a very complicated piece of equipment.”

“It’s expensive, it’s hard to train on. It has a jet engine,” Mr. Kahl said. “I think it’s about 3 gallons to the mile with jet fuel. It is not the easiest system to maintain.”

Much of the U.S. military aid sent to Ukraine thus far has been through a program drawing on Pentagon stocks to get weapons to Kyiv more quickly. Even under that program, analysts say, it likely would take months to get tanks to Ukraine and get Ukrainian forces trained on them.

It was not clear Tuesday how many tanks Ukraine might receive.

Poland indicated last week that it was ready to transfer some of its Leopard tanks to Ukrainian forces but would not do so without permission from Berlin. Polish officials said early Tuesday that they had requested such permission but were awaiting a response.

Two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters that Mr. Scholz had decided to transfer tanks directly from Germany to Ukrainian forces and permit Warsaw to do the same.

The news agency also cited Spiegel magazine, which first reported the German chancellor’s decision, and said it concerns at least one company of Leopard 2 A6 tanks from the stocks of Germany’s own armed forces.

One company usually has 14 tanks, according to Reuters.

Ukrainian officials have pleaded with NATO and other Western powers to send tanks so their army could break free of the grinding attritional warfare.

“You are strong people of powerful countries. I know your bravery, and I appreciate everything you have done and are doing now,” Mr. Zelenskyy said Friday during an address to the NATO defense chiefs advisory group on Ukraine.

Mr. Zelenskyy asked NATO leaders, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, not to quibble about which nation should provide which tanks.

“It is in your power,” he said, “not to bargain about different numbers of tanks but to open a principled supply that will stop Russian evil.”

At the Pentagon, Gen. Ryder said the Biden administration’s focus has been to give the Ukrainian military what it needs to have an immediate effect on the battlefield.

“The Abrams is a complex weapon system that is challenging to maintain. It was true yesterday, it’s true today [and] it will be true in the future,” he said. “Anytime we’ve provided Ukraine with any type of system, we’ve provided the training and sustainment capabilities with that.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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