The first American-made Abrams tanks have been delivered to Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Monday, arriving months before initial estimates and in time to be used in Ukraine's counteroffensive against Russian forces.
More M1 Abrams tanks will be sent in the coming months, according to two U.S. defense officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly. They said those shipped into Ukraine on Saturday were the first of 31 the Biden administration has promised to provide.
Zelenskyy offered no details in a post on his Telegram channel, but American officials said two platoons worth of tanks were delivered to Ukraine. That would generally amount to between eight and 10 tanks.
"Abrams are already in Ukraine and are preparing to reinforce our brigades," Zelenskyy wrote, adding that he was "grateful to allies."
The Abrams will be among other tanks in Ukraine's arsenal that it could use to push into, and possibly reclaim, Russian-held territory in Ukraine's eastern and southern regions, where fighting has ground on for months without major breakthroughs. But Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukraine's military intelligence, has warned that the Abrams would need to be deployed "in a very tailored way, for very specific, well-crafted operations" or risk being destroyed.
If they are simply sent to the front lines to try to punch through Russian defenses, Budanov said last week in an interview with an American military news site that "they will not live very long on the battlefield. They need to be used in those breakthrough operations but very well-prepared."
Former senior U.S. military officers say it could take some time before the Abrams are sent to the battlefield, because Ukrainian troops first ensure that they have the needed support elements and decide where and when the vehicles will be most effective. Until then, it's likely that the tanks' locations will be kept under wraps, as Ukraine's forces "don't want to start losing them to precision strikes before they are actually in the fight," said Ben Hodges, a retired general who formerly commanded the U.S. Army in Europe.
President Joe Biden and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had forecast last week that the tanks would be shipped within days. Their arrival represents part of an extraordinary effort by Western allies responding to relentless pushing from Ukraine to deliver a powerful weapon months ahead of schedule.
Just one year ago, allies had resisted sending Western-made tanks to Ukraine, concerned that doing so would draw NATO more directly into the war and further escalate tensions with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
By January, however, convinced that Ukraine needed more heavy armored vehicles to confront Russian forces, Britain, Germany and the United States each agreed to supply the modern Western tanks or allow for them to be transferred to Ukraine. At that point, experts predicted that it could take at least a year to train enough Ukrainian forces on the sophisticated weapons.
American troops began training Ukrainian forces in late spring, conducting an abbreviated 12-week course to operate Abrams tanks at U.S. military bases in Germany.
The U.S. decision to donate the Abrams tanks unlocked the transfer from European nations of several dozen German-made Leopard tanks, another sophisticated Western weapon, which Berlin had been unwilling to allow without a similar commitment from the United States. Britain delivered at least 14 of its Challenger 2 tanks in the spring.
Ukraine has said it needs at least 300 Western tanks for its counteroffensive, but it has so far received only about half that number, said Col. Markus Reisner of Austria, who is closely monitoring the war at Austria's main military training academy.
By comparison, officials have estimated that Russia is manufacturing about 200 tanks each year.
LOAN OFFER TO POLAND
The Biden administration announced Monday that it is offering a $2 billion loan to Poland, which has been a hub for weapons going into Ukraine, to support the ally's defense modernization.
The State Department said in a statement that Poland is a "stalwart" ally of the U.S. whose "security is vital to the collective defense" of NATO's eastern flank, and that such funding is reserved for Washington's most important security partners.
The U.S. government is also providing Warsaw up to $60 million for the cost of the loan in Foreign Military Financing, which would support "urgent procurements of defense articles and services from the United States," the State Department said. The $60 million is a loan subsidy meant to ensure that Warsaw can secure favorable terms for the loan.
Poland has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine since Russia's full-scale invasion of the country, handing over large numbers of its own tanks, fighter jets and other equipment.
It has been undergoing a process of modernization to replace what it gave away, much of which was based on old Soviet technology, putting in orders with U.S. and South Korean defense companies.
Recently the Polish-Ukrainian relationship has seen strains because of a trade dispute centered on Ukrainian grain entering the Polish market and driving down the prices Polish farmers can get. Amid the spat, Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said his country was no longer sending more weapons to Ukraine.
The comment created some confusion. Analysts noted that Poland has already given Ukraine most of what it has to give, and the statement was made before a Polish election and did not mean much. But it also raised concerns that Western support for Ukraine could be weakening.
U.S. officials have sought to play down the dispute, praising Poland's role in helping Ukraine and noting that it is in Poland's strategic interest for Ukraine to prevail against Russia.
Information for this article was contributed by Lara Jakes of The New York Times and by staff writers of The Associated Press.