Washington The US government was unusually reticent when the first reports of American tank deliveries leaked out. “We have nothing to announce at this time,” spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday. Hours earlier, the Wall Street Journal reported that US President Joe Biden had finally decided to deliver M1-Abrams tanks to Ukraine. The US government has so far refused to do so. The Ministry of Defense also did not want to come forward at first. The Pentagon said the Abrams tank is a “complex weapon system that is difficult to maintain.” “That was true yesterday, it is true today and it will be true in the future.”
According to the New York Times, the US government will announce the decision to supply tanks on Wednesday. About 30 M1-Abrams tanks are planned to support Ukraine on the battlefield in the future. Should the tank deliveries be confirmed, Washington would solve a blockade: The federal government had recently suggested that German tanks would only be supplied in close cooperation with the USA, thus triggering diplomatic resentment.
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However, the American tanks are not immediately available to the Ukrainians. US government officials have said in recent days that it could take “months or even years” for Abrams tanks to be fully operational in Ukraine. The American tanks consume a lot of kerosene because of their jet propulsion, the operation requires extensive training.
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A fund as an interim solution
Since the US has just put together a $2.5 billion weapons package, the tanks would not be financed from budget funds, the AP news agency wrote. Instead, a fund called the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI) would come into play. It allows the US government to source weapons from private industry rather than from existing US stockpiles. This could, for example, buy back Abrams tanks from allied countries like Poland, refurbish them and then send them to Ukraine.
The Americans’ planned deliveries would be an abrupt about-face. Most recently, the US government had constantly put forward reasons against American tank deliveries. As recently as Friday, the Ministry of Defense said: “The maintenance effort and the high costs of an Abrams are immense. It just doesn’t make sense right now.”
The option of the Ukraine fund now suggests an interim solution. The USA would not be in the embarrassment of having to send tanks to the battlefield immediately – it is a commitment without any acute consequences. “The only reason the US is sending M1 tanks to Ukraine is to give Germany the political cover it needs,” defense expert Mark Cancian told Reuters.
The US government’s wait-and-see attitude indicated a need for coordination within the Biden government – and for coordination with the German federal government. Apparently, value was placed on a joint approach between Washington and Berlin. Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) will make a government statement in the Bundestag on Wednesday.
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According to the Wall Street Journal, US President Biden was more open to tank deliveries than his Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who is said to have advised against it until the very end. According to the newspaper, after days of intensive negotiations between Berlin and Washington, the decision finally fell in favor of the tanks.
This was preceded by a week of struggles over a new Western strategy for the Ukraine war, which has been raging for almost eleven months. At the world economic summit in Davos and the meeting of the Ukraine contact group in Ramstein on Friday, the NATO partners discussed how Ukraine could best be prepared for an impending winter offensive by Moscow. But the week ended in differences and disappointment, it was the West’s first major disharmony in the Ukraine war.
The United States as the leading power
The United States could have “saved a lot of headaches and public discord” if the Biden government had turned around earlier, security expert Peter Rough told the Handelsblatt. Rough heads the Center on Europe at the Washington think tank Hudson Institute. But the decision released “Germany’s leopards and gave the Ukrainians a chance for a combative counter-offensive. It’s a good result after a bad process,” Rough said.
The former adviser to ex-President George W. Bush sees a “broad lesson” in the back-and-forth on the tank issue. Instead of “acting on the basis of the lowest common denominator”, the US should “lead the way and provide a slipstream for allies to move behind,” he stressed.
Leading US Republicans had urged Biden to supply the tanks to expedite Germany’s Leopard deployment. However, it is unclear how long the United States will continue to send heavy military equipment to the war zone on the current scale. Sections of the Republicans, who have dominated the House of Representatives in the US Congress since January and can thus block the budget, want to reduce aid to Ukraine.
The corruption allegations against the Ukrainian government complicate the situation. The US State Department said Tuesday it had no evidence that US aid was misappropriated. So far, a majority of US citizens support the funds for Ukraine. But according to the research company Ipsos, public support is slowly but steadily falling. Since the outbreak of war, the US has approved over $27 billion in military aid to Ukraine, including combat vehicles, military trucks, mine-resistant vehicles and the Patriot missile defense system.
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