US President Biden announced on Wednesday that he plans to send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, reversing the government’s longstanding opposition to requests from Kyiv for the sophisticated but high-maintenance vehicles.
Biden said in White House remarks that this U.S. support is about helping Ukraine “defend its sovereignty” and that sending in tanks does not mean it is an “offensive threat.”
Biden’s announcement came after Germany confirmed earlier Wednesday that it would send 14 Leopard 2 tanks from its own stocks to Ukraine. The two nations appeared to be at a standoff as German officials pointed out that Berlin would only send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine if the US sent the M-1 Abrams tanks.
If you’re reading along, here’s what you should know about today’s developments:
Why this matters: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told CNN’s Kate Bolduan on At This Hour on Wednesday that the tanks will “significantly strengthen” Kiev’s combat capabilities. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly pleaded with Western allies for modern tanks as his country prepares for an expected major Russian counteroffensive in the spring.
As both the US and Germany have pledged to send tanks to Ukraine, other countries, particularly those with German-made tanks, have also announced frontline contributions. CNN cannot confirm the total number of Leopard 2 tanks to be delivered, but pledges made so far by several countries mean that the Ukrainian military is ready to receive dozens of the tanks. Germany’s largest ruling party announced on Wednesday that Ukraine’s western allies will send the country a total of around 80 Leopard 2 main battle tanks.
Why send tanks now: The delivery of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine will provide the Kiev Armed Forces with a modern and powerful military vehicle ahead of a possible Russian spring offensive. It will also come as a blow to the Kremlin, which has seen a growing campaign to equip Ukrainian troops with high-tech combat systems as Russia’s ground war nears the one-year mark.
Leading up to Biden’s announcement, senior US officials framed the decision as an investment in Ukraine’s “long-term capabilities,” an indication that the government is looking well into the future for the now 11-month war. Ukraine hopes the new tanks can help it retake territory captured by Russia, including in Donbass. This could also include Crimea, the peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.
Possible challenges: The Abrams tanks will take months to arrive, senior Biden administration officials have said, and they will require extensive training of Ukrainian troops on how to operate and maintain them. The US has to manage complicated supply chains for the components required for the tanks.
The procurement process will take months, officials said, although Germany’s leopards will arrive shortly. Meanwhile, the US will begin a “comprehensive training program” for Ukrainians on the Abrams, which will require significant maintenance once deployed. The training takes place outside of Ukraine.
Portugal’s foreign minister said Wednesday it would take two to three months for Western-donated Leopard 2 tanks to be fully operational in Ukraine.
Watch CNN’s Jim Sciutto break down the latest on the tanks:
CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Stephanie Halasz, Sophie Tanno, and Sugam Pokharel contributed to this post.