THE ARM TWISTING TURNABOUT
Despite all the drawbacks expressed by the US, when all was said and done, it came down to political realities and a diplomatic dance.
Germany had been reluctant to send the Leopards, or allow allies to send them, unless the US put its Abrams on the table, due to concerns that supplying the tanks would incur Russia’s wrath. The US, meanwhile, argued that the German-made Leopards were a better fit because Ukrainian troops could get them and get trained on them far more quickly and easily.
The impasse frustrated European allies, such as Poland, who wanted to send Leopards but could not without Germany’s go ahead. This led to more fierce negotiations.
US and German officials both used the word “intensive” to describe the talks that ultimately led to the tank turnabout by both countries.
“This is the result of intensive consultations, once again, with our allies and international partners,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in an address to German lawmakers on Wednesday.
Echoing Scholz, a senior US administration official said talks had been going on for some time but “in a much more intensified way over the last number of weeks”. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to provide details on the decision.
From President Joe Biden on down, calls were made, including to Scholz. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke and met with their German counterparts and other allies.
Last Friday, the pressure was palpable. Top defence leaders from more than 50 countries met at Ramstein Air Base in Germany to discuss Ukraine’s ongoing weapons and equipment needs.
Tanks were a key subject. Leaders from countries that have Leopard tanks met with the new German defence minister.
Gradually, the German stance began to publicly soften, leading to Wednesday’s announcements. Asked repeatedly what changed, Biden administration officials sidestepped. Asked directly about German pressure, Biden told reporters: “Germany didn’t force me to change our mind.”
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE
Timing for both delivery of the tanks to Ukraine and the training of Ukrainian troops is fuzzy. US officials would only say that it will take “many months” to deliver the Abrams tanks, but that the Leopards will arrive faster.
Doug Bush, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, said the US no longer buys new Abrams, but uses older ones as “seed vehicles” and refurbishes them. Doing that, however, is not quick or easy, he said.
The training can begin more quickly, and the Pentagon is developing a program.
“We want to make sure that they (the tanks) fall on ready hands, and that the Ukrainians know how to use them, they know how to keep them running, and they’ve got the supply chain in place for spare parts and supplies,” said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.
Bush said the Ukrainians have shown they have the knowledge and capabilities to learn new systems quickly.
“We can often abbreviate and accelerate what we can do in terms of training for Ukrainian army soldiers,” he told reporters Wednesday.
“With enough motivation and dedicated 24/7 access to them, we can train people really quickly,” he said.
“The US Army knows how to do that.”