Blinken Convinced Biden to Give Ukraine Tanks to Conceal NATO Rift Over Military Aid, Reports Say
© AP Photo / JAN PITMANUS soldiers of the 1st armored Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division load a M1-A Abrams tank
© AP Photo / JAN PITMAN
The US and its European allies have pledged a variety of armored vehicles to Kiev in recent weeks, as the far-right government begins to lose ground to Russian forces once more amid a new offensive in the Donbass.
Both US President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin were skeptical about sending main battle tanks to Ukraine, but both were convinced to assent after Secretary of State Antony Blinken explained it was necessary to heal a rift opening in the NATO alliance, reports in US media said on Thursday.
According to the reports, Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley both believed that giving Ukraine M-1 Abrams tanks, which are expensive and hard to operate and maintain, would not be a net positive for their situation on the battlefield. Public comments by Austin in recent weeks support that narrative, with him saying recently that the administration wants to focus on what Kiev “needs to be successful right now” when asked if the US would send Abrams tanks.
However, Kiev didn’t just ask the US for tanks, it asked other NATO powers as well, and Germany has been wracked with debate about whether to okay other nations to send Kiev some of their Leopard 2 main battle tanks. Tensions rose even higher when Poland said it was willing to give Ukraine tanks, but Germany, which made them and has the right of refusal on their transfer, dragged its feet.
However, Kiev won't be getting the top-of-the-line Abrams model. According to Thursday media reports, while Kiev will get 31 of the M1A2 Abrams tanks, they won't be equipped with the US Army's best armor: a secret mix of materials that includes depleted uranium and is banned by Congress from being exported to other nations.
Similar divisions arose during tense talks prior to the start of the conflict in February 2022, as the US refused to take Russian demands seriously, but NATO allies in Europe preferred negotiations with Moscow. After the conflict started, tensions over a boycott of Russian energy exports have followed a similar pattern, with the US better able to weather their losses than European buyers.
While the Leopard 2 tanks could arrive by the Spring, the Abrams tanks won’t be shipped out for nearly a year, according to reports, seriously watering down the importance of Biden’s pledge. A similar dynamic played out with the Patriot air defense system promised to Kiev last month, with the US saying it would take several months to train Ukrainian crews to operate them.
Earlier in the conflict, NATO had attempted to avoid such a problem by sending Ukraine some of the same Soviet-made equipment that its Eastern European members used, such as Slovakia and Poland, but their limited numbers have largely run out as the conflict enters its twelfth month.
Russia launched the special operation in Ukraine in February 2022 after months of attempts at negotiations with Kiev and NATO over Moscow’s security red lines failed. Moscow has demanded Ukraine declare itself a neutral state, give up its attempts to join NATO, and refuse to host NATO weapons on its soil. It has also called on Kiev to remove the neo-Nazi elements of its government and armed forces, which have long targeted Russophone Ukrainians with violence and discrimination.