U.S. Leans Toward Providing Abrams Tanks to Ukraine


WASHINGTON—The Biden administration is leaning toward sending a significant number of Abrams M1 tanks to Ukraine and an announcement of the deliveries could come this week, U.S. officials said.

The announcement would be part of a broader diplomatic understanding with Germany in which Berlin would agree to send a smaller number of its own Leopard 2 tanks and would also approve the delivery of more of the German-made tanks by Poland and other nations. It would settle a trans-Atlantic disagreement over the tanks that had threatened to open fissures as the war drags into the end of its first year.

The White House declined to comment.

The deal would address a rift between the U.S. and the Germans and other Europeans over providing tanks for Ukraine during a pivotal phase of the war. Kyiv is preparing a counteroffensive to try to take back Ukrainian territory and Russia is mobilizing troops for its own operations.

The shift in the U.S. position follows a call on Jan. 17 between President Biden and German Chancellor

Olaf Scholz

in which Mr. Biden agreed to look into providing the Abrams tanks against the judgment of the Pentagon. A senior German official said that the issue had been the subject of intense negotiation between Washington and Berlin for more than a week and appeared to be on the way to resolution.

A German-built Leopard tank was used in a military exercise in May in Nowogard, Poland.



Photo:

wojtek radwanski/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Military officials have argued publicly that the Abrams tanks require a substantial amount of training and logistics support and therefore aren’t appropriate for this moment in the conflict.

In a contentious meeting last week at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, the U.S. and its allies failed to persuade Germany to allow other nations to send German-made tanks, exposing the first serious rift in the alliance that has supported Kyiv.

Previously, the Pentagon had ruled out providing the tanks to Ukraine, saying they were too complicated for the Ukrainians to maintain and operate. But White House and State Department officials were described as being more open to providing Abrams to break the diplomatic logjam holding up Leopard deliveries.

Some Democratic lawmakers close to the White House, such as Sen.

Chris Coons

of Delaware, have also urged that some Abrams be provided.

The provision of U.S. battle tanks has become a contentious issue within the Biden administration and was calling into question the unity of the alliance of nations supporting Ukraine.

German officials initially said that they wouldn’t be the first to send tanks to Ukraine and wouldn’t do so unless the U.S. provided its own Abrams tanks. Germany’s new defense minister,

Boris Pistorius,

told German television last week that German and U.S. tanks don’t need to be provided at the same time and indicated that his government was still weighing what to do.

Poland’s defense minister said Tuesday that Poland had asked Germany for permission to send some of its German-made tanks to Ukraine.

“The Germans have already received our request for consent to transfer Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine,” Defense Minister

Mariusz Błaszczak

said. “I also appeal to the German side to join the coalition of countries supporting Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks.”

Publicly, U.S. officials have praised Germany for weapons contributions it has made to Ukraine, including the IRIS-T air defense system and the promise to send a Patriot antimissile battery to supplement the ones pledged by the U.S. and the Netherlands, as well as Marder infantry-fighting vehicles.

Privately, U.S. officials were frustrated by Germany’s refusal to approve the provision of German-made tanks and have debated how to persuade Berlin to change its stance.

Pentagon officials want Leopard tanks for Ukraine, but didn’t want to send the Abrams there now, arguing that the gas-guzzling tanks with their gas turbine engines and fuel requirements make them less-than-desirable for this moment in the nearly yearlong conflict.

Some State Department and White House officials, however, have been open to meeting the German demands on the Abrams to avoid a deepening rift among Ukraine’s backers over aid to Ukraine and to expedite the delivery of more armor.

The British promised earlier this month to send 14 Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine, but that wasn’t enough to persuade the Germans to release their hold on the Leopards.

The Engels air base, a key aviation hub, was one of the targets of strikes inside Russian territory. WSJ explains what images and videos of the incidents can tell us about Kyiv’s tactics to destabilize Moscow far from the front lines. Photo composite: Eve Hartley via Planet Labs/Maxar

—Bojan Pancevski contributed to this article.

Write to Michael R. Gordon at michael.gordon@wsj.com and Gordon Lubold at gordon.lubold@wsj.com

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