RAMSTEIN, Germany - U.S. officials have confirmed that Ukrainian troops will be training in Germany on American M1 Abrams tank in the coming weeks. This would be an important step for Kyiv in its bid to retake territory from Russia.
The timeline was announced by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Friday at a meeting of allies held at Ramstein Air Base. Defense officials have said that around 31 tanks are expected to arrive in Germany for a 10-week training program that will be conducted with Ukrainian troops. The officials who spoke under the condition of anonymity in order to discuss security issues said that combat-ready tanks might reach the Ukrainian battlefields by fall.
The United States refused to provide Ukraine with F-16 jet fighters. At a press conference held after the meeting, General Mark A. Milley of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that Ukraine's system of air defense had been effective for over a year, and made Russian warplanes "cautious" for fear of being shot at.
He said that maintaining Ukraine's air defences is the most important thing to do right now. Milley stated that the United States will continue to work closely with its allies in this regard, stating that 'we must do everything possible to ensure Ukraine has an adequate air defense - ground-based air-defense capabilities.'
Ukrainian leaders have expressed frustration at the pace of delivery from their Western supporters, who are demanding jets, tanks, and other advanced weapons. This week, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked NATO's Secretary-General to help overcome the resistance' in providing more advanced aircraft and artillery and long-range weapons.
He said that a delay in making the right decisions was a loss of time for the peace and lives of our soldiers who had not yet been provided with the necessary defense equipment.
Ukraine was able to withstand a Russian offensive during the winter. However, it cost thousands of artillery rounds a day as well as serious casualties on eastern battlefields. According to leaked Pentagon documents and U.S. officials, Ukraine's air defense network has weakened after a year of fighting off Russia's aerial force.
Austin, Texas, on Friday, at U.S. led talks with top officials of defense from about 50 countries, the Ukraine Contact Group said that continued deliveries to Kyiv of weapons, ammunition, and tanks 'underscore how badly the Kremlin underestimated'.
Austin, speaking of President Vladimir Putin, told the assembled defense ministers in a large room at the Officers' Club in Ramstein that Putin believed he could topple Kyiv’s democratically-elected government. He thought the world would allow him to get away with his actions.
Austin's trip to Europe - he arrived in Germany Thursday, after meeting with Swedish officials - was also an attempt to reassure his allies following the Pentagon leak of hundreds top secret national security documents. A 21-year-old National Guard airman in Massachusetts was charged with the leak. The leak involved the posting of many documents related the the war in Ukraine.
Austin stated, 'I'm sure many of you are following the reports about the unauthorized disclosures of classified and sensitive U.S. materials'. I take this matter very seriously.
He praised Ukraine Contact Group's 'commitment' to'rejecting efforts to divide us'
He said at the press conference that the members of the group had delivered to Ukraine more than 230 tank, 1,550 armored vehicle and enough equipment and ammunition to support nine new armored battalions.
Milley stated that Ukrainian troops had also finished training in the use of Patriot air-defense systems, and that Patriot systems arrived in Ukraine last week. He said that the theme of the discussions between defense ministers was 'air defense'.
Ukraine also received MiG-29 jets from its two neighbours, Slovakia and Poland. These jets are Soviet-made and not the advanced F-16 warplanes made by America that Zelenskyy insists his forces require.
Since the beginning of the conflict, the Russian air force has avoided many attacks in Ukraine. This is because Ukraine was able to shift its air defenses so that it caught Russian warplanes by surprise. Since then, Russia's aircraft have been confined to the frontlines. However, it has suffered significant losses in territory that it claims.
At least eight Russian fighter planes were destroyed by explosions last summer at an airbase in Crimea. In October, 14 people were killed when a Russian jet crashed into an apartment courtyard in a southern Russian town. The Defense Ministry reported that a Russian plane dropped an unintentional bomb in Belgorod on Friday. Three people were injured and the panic spread throughout the city near the Ukrainian border.
The Polish, German, and Ukrainian Defense Ministers announced plans to establish a Leopard 2-tank service center in Poland. Ukraine started receiving these battle tanks last month as well as Challenger tank from Britain.
Initially, American officials said that M1 Abrams tanks wouldn't arrive in Ukraine before next year. Senior defense officials want to speed up the plan since January, when Biden announced it would be sending the tanks.
They will also have to undergo maintenance training, qualification tests and drills to learn how to operate this advanced battle tank. The Ukrainian troops will also have to learn to coordinate tank maneuvers in what the American army calls 'combined weapons' tactics.
These efforts will support a Ukrainian offensive that aims to dislodge Russian troops from the territory they captured early in the invasion which began nearly 14 months ago.
Austin stated that in the past year, the countries of the coalition that supports Ukraine have sent $55 Billion in weapons, missiles and ammunition to Ukraine. They also sent tanks, other armored vehicles, and tanks. Austin said that the United States sent $35 billion out of this amount.
Pentagon officials initially voiced concerns over the Abrams's possible deployment, citing their concern about Ukraine's ability to maintain these advanced tanks that require extensive training and maintenance. Officials had also said that it would take many years before the Abrams tanks reached Ukrainian battlefields.
Austin came to realize that sending American tanks would encourage Germany to send its Leopard 2 tanks. The State Department and White House officials argued that providing Germany with the political cover to send its Leopard 2 tanks outweighed Defense Department reluctance.
As it turned out American officials were able move Abrams tank to Ukraine quicker than expected. Defense officials have said that they acted quickly to expedite delivery and they now believe that the tanks will be ready for combat within a few short months.
Austin stated that "I am confident" that the equipment and training will help Ukraine's military to be successful on the battlefield.
Milley stated that the M1 tanks heading to Germany were 'training tanks' and therefore not combat-ready. He added that he believed the M1 tanks would make a significant difference in the future weapons headed to Ukraine.
This article was originally published in
The New York Times