Defense & National Security — Inside the decision to send Ukraine tanks
Both Germany and the U.S. announced on Wednesday they will provide battle tanks to Ukraine after weeks of tension over donating the heavy combat vehicles.
We’ll share how we got to this point and details of the deal, plus Ukraine’s next weapons goal and how U.S. weapons sales to other countries fared in 2022.
This is Defense & National Security, your guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. A friend forward this newsletter to you?
How Western tanks could bolster Ukraine’s fight
Thirty-one American-made M1 Abrams tanks are heading to Ukraine along with German battle tanks. But while the Abrams are unlikely to arrive in the country until at least the fall, the German-made Leopard 2 tanks could be in Kyiv’s hands within a couple months — possibly in time for Russia’s expected renewed offensive.
Major firepower: The Leopards are the most common Western battle tanks in Europe, and the Abrams are a prized Western fighting machine. Both will provide significantly more firepower than the Soviet-era tanks the Ukrainian forces are currently using.
Henk Goemans, director of the University of Rochester’s Center for Conflict and Cooperation, said the tanks would be “very important” for Ukraine’s forces in the current stage of the war, which is largely stalemated in the east.
“Ukraine is at a quantitative disadvantage,” he said. “Russia has more manpower, they have more military … and the tanks would make a big difference there.”
A stunning reversal: The decision to provide the tanks marks a stunning reversal for the Biden administration, which had previously argued they would be of little benefit to Ukraine.
But the decision to send the Abrams tanks helped get Germany to move forward with a separate effort to provide Leopard tanks to Ukraine, which the U.S. had seen as benefitting Kyiv.
Here’s what you need to know about the Leopard tanks and how they could impact the war.
BIDEN: US TANKS TO UKRAINE NOT AN OFFENSIVE THREAT TO RUSSIA
President Biden on Wednesday said that the commitment of American Abrams tanks to Ukraine is not “an offensive threat to Russia,” appearing to respond to threats from Russian officials that the provision of Western tanks to Ukraine would escalate tensions with Moscow.
“There’s no offensive threat to Russia” the president said in remarks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House.
“If Russian troops returned to Russia … that’s where they belong, this war would be over today. That’s what we all want, an end to this war,” the president said.
No pressure campaign to see here: The president dismissed the notion that his decision to provide Abrams tanks for Ukraine came as a result of German pressure for the U.S. to share the burden of a move that has already drawn a bellicose reaction from Russia.
“Germany didn’t force me to change my mind; we wanted to make sure we’re all together,” the president said in response to a reporter’s question. “That’s what we’re going to do all along — that’s what we’re doing right now.”
More from The Hill:
Ukraine foreign minister calls on allies to send as many tanks as possible after German announcement
Russian ambassador: German tanks being sent to Ukraine ‘extremely dangerous’
Ukraine will now push for F-16 fighter jets: adviser
With main battle tanks from the U.S. and Germany now headed to Ukraine, Kyiv is now focusing on securing modern fighter jets from Western allies.
Yuriy Sak, an adviser to Ukraine’s Defense secretary, told The Hill that he was optimistic about receiving Western fighter jets such as the American F-16s, which Ukrainians have sought since early last year when Russia first invaded.
“Every type of weapon we request, we needed yesterday,” Sak said. “We will do everything possible to ensure Ukraine gets fourth-generation fighter jets as soon as possible.”
The next debate: Western fighter jets and longer-range artillery units, which would allow Ukraine to strike Russian forces deeper in occupied territory, will likely be the next debate for NATO.
Ukraine currently uses Soviet-era fighter jets, including MiG-29s, which became a point of controversy last March when the U.S. declined to facilitate the transfer of MiGs from Poland to Kyiv.
Resistance: So far, the U.S. has resisted sending the F-16 fighter jets and does not appear ready to announce their transfer anytime soon.
US arms sales boom in 2022 due to war in Ukraine
U.S. weapons sales to other countries experienced a major uptick in 2022, jumping to more than $51.9 billion largely due to Russia’s war on Ukraine.
In the aftermath of the Feb. 24, 2022 invasion, European nations rushed to arm themselves, giving U.S. weapons sales a 49 percent boost from the $34.8 billion in sales in 2021, according to new data released Wednesday by the State Department.
Across-the-board spike: Direct commercial sales also grew, with American defense contractors selling some $153.7 billion in weapons and military equipment directly to foreign governments in 2022, up from $103.4 billion the previous year.
The State Department attributed the spike to “authorizations adjudicated in support Ukraine’s efforts to defend itself from Russia’s unprovoked aggression.”
An important spike: Arms transfers and defense trade, overseen by the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency and the State Department, are seen as important tools of U.S. foreign policy and national security.
The State Department first reviews the deals sought by other countries to make sure they line up with U.S. goals and, if approved, notifies Congress of the sale. Congress then has the option to reject a potential sale, but if not, the U.S. government moves on to negotiations.
The biggest buys: Among the biggest buyers of U.S. arms in Europe was Germany, which in July ordered 35 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft and equipment for a potential $8.4 billion in “support of NATO’s nuclear sharing mission.”
Ahead of Russia’s invasion, Poland in February sought 250 M1 Abrams tanks for an estimated $6 billion.
Meanwhile, in Asia: Chinese aggression in the Asia-Pacific region also spurred the uptick in sales in 2022, with one of the biggest orders coming from Indonesia. That approved sale includes 36 F-15ID aircraft for an estimated $13.9 billion.
Australia, a staunch U.S. ally that frequently warns of Chinese military intentions, stands to buy 40 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters for an estimated $1.95 billion, among other deals.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
The Center for Strategic and International Studies will host a book discussion on “The Fragile Balance of Terror: Deterrence in the Nuclear Age,” at 9:30 a.m.
The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission will hold a hearing on “China’s Military Diplomacy and Overseas Security Activities,” at 9:30 a.m.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will meet with Albanian Defense Minister Niko Pelesh at the Pentagon at 10:30 a.m.
The Wilson Center will hold a conversation on “Silicon Lifeline: Western Electronics at the Heart of Russia’s War Machine,” at 11 a.m.
The Wilson Center will also host a virtual discussion on “Achieving Security in the Arctic: the Role of DHS and its Components,” with Deputy Homeland Security Secretary John Tien, among others, at 1:30 p.m.
The R Street Institute will hold an event on “The Future of Data Privacy and Security in the 118th Congress,” at 4 p.m.
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OP-EDS IN THE HILL
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