Ukraine will not receive German Leopard II tanks from Europe – at least for now – as the United States maintains its resistance to sending its own M1 Abrams tanks to Kyiv as it approves a $2.5 billion military aid package for Kyiv.
The holdout on tanks from Germany and the US comes despite pleas by President Volodymyr Zelensky, who warned Friday in a remote video address to the Ukraine Defense Contact Group that his troops could not fight Russian forces with words.
“It is in your power … not to bargain about numbers of tanks but to open a principal supply that will stop Russian evil,” he said, calling on the 50 NATO leaders gathered at Ramstein Air Base to also provide F-16 combat jets and long-range missiles. “It is in your power to guarantee such artillery,” he said.
A senior adviser to Zelensky likewise urged allies on Saturday to step up their military support, faster.
“You’ll help Ukraine with the necessary weapons anyway and realize that there is no other option to end the war except the defeat of Russia,” Mykhailo Podolyak wrote in a tweet. “But today’s indecision is killing more of our people. Every day of delay is the death of Ukrainians. Think faster.”
Frustrated Bipartisan US Senators: ‘Send the Tanks’
A bipartisan delegation of three US senators visited Kyiv on Friday to meet with Zelensky and to get an update on the situation. Following that meeting, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senators Richard Blumenthal and Sheldon Whitehouse urged allies to stop the delays and send the tanks ahead of an expected impending “major counteroffensive” by Russia.
Graham aimed at both Germany and the United States in expressing his frustration with the ongoing debate over the tanks.
“I am tired of the s***show of who is going to send tanks and when they are going to send them,” said the South Carolina senator. “To the Germans: send tanks to Ukraine because they need the tanks. It is in your interest that Putin loses in Ukraine.”
Blumenthal joined his colleague in slamming the delays, saying Ukraine’s Western allies must “stop the confusion and the chaotic debate about who sends tanks and when . . . The Russians are on the verge of a major counteroffensive that will be as barbaric and inhumane as all they have done,” he warned.
“We should not send American troops to Ukraine,” he added, “but we should provide Ukraine with whatever we would give our troops if they were fighting on the ground.”
Berlin has been under pressure to supply its widely-acclaimed Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine – and/or allow the 11 other European nations who also have the German tanks to send them as well.
But Germany’s newly installed defense minister, Boris Pistorius, has thus far declined to send the tanks and won’t allow the other nations to do so either. He denied reports earlier in the week saying that Germany is insisting on a quid pro quo, conditioning its release of the tanks on a similar deal by the United States to send its M1 Abrams tanks as well.
“The impression that has occasionally arisen that there is a united coalition and Germany is standing in the way is wrong,” Pistorius told reporters, claiming opinions on the tanks were mixed among the allies.
Germany did commit, however, to sending a Patriot air defense system and Marder infantry fighting vehicles.
“We don’t fear anything,” Pistorius said. “We have just a responsibility for our population in Germany and in Europe and we have to balance all the pros and cons before we decide things like that.
“I’m very sure that there will be a decision in a short time but I don’t know when and I don’t know how the decision will look,” he added.
The Biden Administration meanwhile has refused to send Abrams tanks to Ukraine, with a spokesperson from the US National Security Council pointed out that Abrams tanks are “very expensive to operate, very expensive to fuel, very expensive to maintain and [require] a lot of training.”
In addition to the logistical costs of such a move, military officials pointed to the length of time it takes to train personnel to use the tanks and complexities involved in their repair and maintenance as reasons for the decision.
Austin was joined by US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley in emphasizing the reasons for not sending the American tanks.
In addition, US military officials have said the Abrams tanks are not the right vehicles for this kind of warfare from a strategic perspective, adding that Ukraine already has “hundreds” of tanks at its disposal and that its troops have captured hundreds more Russian tanks as well.
Ukraine’s military leaders, however, have said they need at least 300 tanks to break through and defeat Russian forces.
British Tanks on the Way; Poland May Go Rogue
The UK agreed to send its own Challenger II tanks to help Ukraine.
Poland’s Prime Minister Nateusz Morawiecki told his country’s public radio station that Warsaw may send its Leopard tanks to Ukraine even without German re-export approval.
“We will either obtain this consent quickly [from Berlin] or we will do it ourselves,” Morawiechi warned.
Poland’s deputy foreign minister, Pawel Jablonski, reiterated his prime minister’s warning on Friday, according to Reuters.
“I do not rule out that we are ready to take such a step,” Jablonski said. “At the moment we are trying to make Germany not only agree these tanks being sent by Poland or other countries, but also to do so themselves.”
Poland had already pledged to send a “company” of 12 tanks as part of an international coalition, according to Breaking Defense. Sweden and Finland also expressed willingness to contribute tanks from their respective inventories.
US Pledges Massive Aid to Ukraine – But No Tanks
The US approved a massive $2.5 billion military aid package to Ukraine, bring America’s total military aid to Ukraine thus far to $26.7 billion since the start of the war last February.
Included in the latest aid package for this first time are 90 Stryker Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) with 20 mine rollers.
In addition, the US aid package includes:
Munitions for National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS);
8 Avenger air defense systems;
59 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs), with 590 TOW anti-tank missiles plus 295,000 rounds of 25mm ammunition;
53 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs);
350 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs);
20,000 155mm artillery rounds;
Some 600 precision-guided 155mm artillery rounds;
95,000 105mm artillery rounds;
Some 11,800 120mm mortar rounds;
Ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS);
12 ammunition support vehicles;
6 command post vehicles;
22 tactical vehicles to tow weapons;
High-speed Anti-radiation missiles (HARMs);
Approximately 2,000 anti-armor rockets.
Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov appealed in a statement on January 19 to the countries that in fact have the Leopard II tanks in service to contribute to Kyiv’s defense.
“We are addressing our appeal to … Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Turkey,” they wrote.
In response, European nations pledged Thursday at a meeting in Estonia to “collectively pursue delivery of an unprecedented set of donations including main battle tanks, heavy artillery, air defense, ammunition and infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine’s defense.”
Among those signing the pledge were the defense ministers of Estonia, the United Kingdom, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania plus senior officials from Denmark, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Slovakia.
Denmark pledged “weapons donations and military support” plus training for Ukrainian forces, including all of its 19 Caesar 8×8 self-propelled artillery systems under order from the French Nexter manufacturer.
Czech Republic made a commitment to provide large caliber ammunition, howitzers and armored personnel carriers.
Estonia promised to send support vehicles for artillery units, 155mm FH-70 and 122mm D-30 howitzers, “thousands” of rounds of 155mm artillery ammunition and “hundreds” of Carl-Gustaf M2 anti-tank grenade launchers with ammunition.
Finland pledged “heavy artillery and munitions” at a cost of $433 million.
Latvia said it will send two M-17 helicopters, Stinger man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), “tens” of machine guns and ammunition and “tens” of undisclosed UAVs.
Lithuania promised to send two Russian-made Mi-8 helicopters and dozens of L-70 anti-aircraft guns with “tens of thousands” of ammunition – a package worth an estimated $92 million in replacement capability – plus items such as counter-UAS technologies and more UAVs.
Poland pledged to send S-60 anti-aircraft guns with 70,000 rounds of ammunition, plus continued delivery of 155mm KRAB howitzers – and said it was prepared to send its German Leopard II main battle tanks.
United Kingdom said it will send a squadron of Challenger II main battle tanks with armored recovery and repair vehicles, “hundreds” of armored and protected vehicles, AS90 self-propelled 155mm guns, another 100,000 artillery rounds, “dozens” more UAVs, 600 Brimstone anti-tank munitions and “hundreds” more GMLRS rockets, Starstreak air defense missiles, medium range air defense missiles.
Sweden, outside the Tallinn Pledge, promised to provide a “heavy advanced weapons arsenal” worth $420 million, including an Archer 155mm artillery system, up to 50 CV90 infantry fighting vehicles, recoilless rifles and NLAW anti-tank weapons.
One day after the meeting in Estonia, Austin urged the members of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group to “dig deeper” in pledging more equipment.
“History is watching us,” he warned.