Photo Credit: White House / YouTube screengrab
US President Joe Biden speaks from the White House on January 25, 2023

President Joe Biden may feel that, by finally authorising the shipment of American tanks to Ukraine, he has demonstrated that he remains committed to the Ukrainian cause. But given the time it will take for the tanks to arrive in Ukraine, it could well prove to be an empty gesture.

Furthermore, with the White House resisting Ukrainian requests for F-16 fighter jets to protect the tanks, Biden risks sending mixed messages about just how committed his administration is to supporting Kyiv in its fight against the Russian invaders.


From the outset of the conflict, Russian President Vladimir Putin has calculated that Western support for Ukraine would eventually wane. And, with the Russians reported to be preparing a new spring offensive, any sign of hesitancy by Washington in terms of supporting Ukraine will encourage Putin in the belief that he will meet no meaningful resistance from the Western alliance as he maintains his barbaric assault against the Ukrainian people.

Biden’s commitment to supply Ukraine with 31 Abrams M1 main battle tanks was only forthcoming after an unseemly wrangle erupted between the US and key European allies about acceding to Kyiv’s request to be supplied with 300 tanks.

The Ukrainian military says it is in desperate need of the heavy armour if it is to withstand the new offensive the Russians are said to be planning to launch later this month to recover the territorial losses they suffered in last year’s disastrous military campaign.

The Ukrainian request met with a mixed response at a summit of donor nations at the US Air Force’s Ramstein Air Base in Germany last month, with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz refusing to authorise the supply of German-made Leopard 2 tanks over concerns it would escalate tensions further with Moscow.

While other European Nato states such as Poland are willing to commit scores of their Leopard tanks to Ukraine, Berlin, which previously has enjoyed close ties with Moscow, has been less enthusiastic, and insisted it would only approve the transfer if Biden followed suit by committing American tanks.

Biden’s authorisation to supply American Abrams tanks was therefore only taken as a result of the pressure he came under from other European allies, such as Britain, which were keen to provide Kyiv with the military support it requires to achieve victory over Russia. As a consequence, Germany has lifted its ban, and Ukraine now stands to receive around 130 tanks from its American and European allies, well below the 300 figure the Ukrainians initially requested.

While Biden’s decision to provide the tanks was initially hailed as a major breakthrough in efforts to support the Ukrainian military, concerns have now arisen about the length of time it will actually take for the promised tanks to arrive. Some US military experts estimate that the tanks might not arrive in Ukraine until the end of this year or early 2024, by which time it could be too late to help the Ukrainian military thwart any new Russian offensive.

The Pentagon, which has been lukewarm about supplying the tanks from the outset, says the delays are due to the fact that it will need to purchase new Abrams tanks to supply Ukraine because the Defense Department doesn’t have any available spares, which seems remarkable given that the US Army and US Marine Corps currently operate nearly 5,000 Abrams.

Concerns about the Biden administration’s commitment to the Ukrainian cause, moreover, have deepened after Biden denied Kyiv’s latest request for F-16 fighter jets.

The warplanes, just like the tanks, are deemed essential if the Ukrainian military is to stand any chance of withstanding a new Russian offensive. To date, the Ukrainians have had to rely for their air defense needs on their ageing fleet of Soviet-era MiG fighters. The supply of Western fighters such as the F-16 would significantly enhance Ukraine’s war-fighting capability, and would send a strong message to Putin that the West remains committed to ensuring Ukraine ultimately declares victory over Russia.

As with so many other issues relating to Ukraine, the Biden administration finds itself unable to reach any firm decision about whether or not to accede to Kyiv’s request for fighter jets. While the president himself has indicated he will not support the move, senior administration officials have indicated that no firm policy decisions on the issue have been taken.

In an interview with MSNBC, deputy national security adviser Jon Finer said the U.S. would be discussing fighter jets “very carefully” with Kyiv and its allies. “We have not ruled in or out any specific systems,” he added.

As with the tanks request, it has been left to European politicians to increase the pressure on the Biden administration to respond positively to the Ukraine request for fighter jets, with former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson making a direct appeal for Washington to supply warplanes during his recent visit to the US. Appearing on Fox News, Johnson, who has been one of Europe’s more prominent cheerleaders for Ukraine, called on Western powers, including the US and Britain, to supply Ukraine with the military hardware it needs to rebuff Russia.

“The faster Putin gets out of Ukraine and the quicker we return to stability and the more powerful the message we send to people like China that the West – America, the U.K. – will not tolerate aggressive attempts to change borders by force,” Johnson said.

Certainly, the Biden administration’s constant dithering over its military support for Ukraine is not only demoralising for the brave Ukrainian forces fighting to protect their country from Russian tyranny. It also encourages Putin in the belief that, despite the significant losses he has suffered during the past year, he can ultimately achieve victory.


{Written by Con Coughlin and reposted from Gatestone Institute}


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