U.S., Germany to send scores of tanks to Ukraine

STORY: In what Kyiv hopes will be a turning point after nearly a year of war, the U.S. changed course on Wednesday and announced it would send 31 of its most advanced battle tanks to Ukraine, helping to break a global stalemate on the weapons that Ukraine says are desperately needed to fight off Russian forces, and potentially reclaim occupied territory in the east and south.

President Joe Biden made the announcement at the White House, joined by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

"Armored capability, as General Austin will tell you, has been critical. And that's why the United States has committed hundreds of armored fighting vehicles to date, including more than 500 as part of the assistance package we announced last Friday. And today I'm announcing that the United States will be sending 31 Abram tanks to Ukraine."

The announcement comes after Germany on Wednesday broke a taboo with a similar decision to send its Leopard 2 tanks.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz:

“There really is a war going on in Europe, not far away from here, Berlin. It is happening in a large country, Ukraine. That’s why we always have to make very clear with everything we do that we do what is necessary and possible to support Ukraine but that at the same time, we avoid an escalation between Russia and NATO. We will continue to always stick to that principle.”

The U.S. decision to deliver M1 Abrams tanks helped resolve a diplomatic logjam with Germany, which was hesitant to send the advanced weaponry amid deep reluctance given its Nazi past.

Angela Stent, Georgetown University Professor Emerita and author of "Putin's World: Russia against the West and with the Rest," says it's a long-held caution in the country.

"You do have a number of German officials and experts, commentators saying we can't have German tanks, you know, on the border with Russia again. This evokes terrible, terrible memories of World War Two. But the counterargument to this is, because you hear a lot about Russia, is that if you look at how Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, it invaded it through Ukraine and Belarus. So Germany also has a historic responsibility towards Ukrainians for what happened in World War Two.”

There was also hesitation in Washington, where officials were wary of the idea of deploying the Abrams -- a highly sophisticated and expensive weapon, which is difficult to maintain, requires extensive training, and provides a logistical resupply challenge because it runs on jet fuel.

But U.S. officials eventually consented once they determined it was necessary in order to persuade Germany to send its more easily operated Leopard 2 tanks - the workhorse of NATO armies across Europe.

Kyiv has been calling for months for Western battle tanks that would give its forces greater firepower and protection, hoping to break through long-static front lines.

Russia has condemned Berlin's decision to provide Leopard 2 tanks as a dangerous provocation. But on Wednesday, Biden said the move wouldn’t escalate the war, saying the new weapons are not an offensive threat to Russia. He also thanked Germany for its decision, saying the country had ‘really stepped up."

BIDEN: "Putin expected Europe and the United States to weaken our resolve. He expected our support for Ukraine to crumble with time. He was wrong."