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U.S. will send Abrams tanks

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about continued U.S. support for Ukraine in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 25, 2023. 

Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration announced Wednesday it will equip Ukraine with the mighty M1A1 Abrams tank, a key reversal in the West’s effort to arm Kyiv as it prepares for a fresh Russian offensive.

The 31 M1A1 Abrams tanks, which amount to one Ukrainian tank battalion, will expand on the more than $26 billion the U.S. has committed to Kyiv’s fight since Russia invaded nearly a year ago.

The tanks will “enhance Ukraine’s capacity to defend its territory and achieve its strategic objectives,” Biden said from the Roosevelt Room of the White House.

“Delivering these tanks to the field is going to take time. Time that we’ll see and we’ll use to make sure the Ukrainians are fully prepared,” he added.

Biden later added: “That’s what this is about: helping Ukraine defend and protect Ukrainian land. It is not an offensive threat to Russia.”

The U.S. will also provide eight M88 recovery vehicles that support the M1A1 Abrams. The Biden administration will also send more than 500 armored vehicles of various types to bolster Ukraine’s military.

The U.S. plans to purchase the new M1s using funds from the congressionally approved Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.

It will “take some time” for the tanks to be delivered to Ukraine, a senior Biden administration official said Wednesday.

“We are talking months as opposed to weeks,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, ground rules set by the administration.

A M1A2 SEP (V2) Abrams Main Battle Tank being unloaded in

Staff Sgt. Grady Jones | U.S. Army | Flickr CC

The Pentagon has been tasked with providing the training, maintenance and logistics support for the M1A1 tanks, according to the official. Another U.S. official said that the training on how to use the tanks, which will take several months, will occur outside of Ukraine.

The sudden U.S. about-face follows weeks of hesitation on whether to send the tanks. The administration mulled whether they would offer Ukraine an advantage because they take significant effort to maintain.

“The real challenge with giving the Ukrainians M1A1 tanks is not fuel but maintenance,” Jeffrey Edmonds, a Russian military expert at nonprofit national security research group CNA, told CNBC.

“Each system on the tank, from the turbine engine to the complex sights used by the gunner, is complex, requiring numerous intricate parts to function properly,” added Edmonds, who has a military career spanning more than two decades.

Edmonds, who spent seven years of service on M1A1 Abrams tanks, said that the platform has specific parts that “are not interchangeable with other tanks and their maintenance is a skill in and of itself.”

U.S. officials shared similar concerns for weeks at the departments of State and Defense and White House podiums, and also during Secretary of Defense Lloyd…

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