Joe Biden
Joe BidenREUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

US President Joe Biden officially announced on Wednesday that the US will send 31 M1 Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine, reversing months of persistent arguments that the tanks were too difficult for Ukrainian troops to operate and maintain, The Associated Press reported.

The US decision came on the heels of Germany agreeing to send 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks from its own stocks. Germany had said the Leopards would not be sent unless the US put its Abrams on the table, not wanting to incur Russia’s wrath without the US similarly committing its own tanks.

Biden said that in total, European allies have agreed to send enough tanks to equip two Ukrainian tank battalions, or a total of about 62 tanks.

“With spring approaching, Ukrainian forces are working to defend the territory they hold and preparing for additional counter offenses,” Biden said in his announcement of his decision to send the tanks. “To liberate their land, they need to be able to counter Russia’s evolving tactics and strategy on the battlefield in the very near term.”

The $400 million package announced Wednesday also includes eight M88 recovery vehicles — tank-like tracked vehicles that can tow the Abrams if it gets stuck.

The US tanks will be purchased through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which means it will take some time for the Ukrainian forces to receive the tanks and be able to deploy them on the battlefield. The Pentagon plans soon to begin training Ukrainian forces on the system outside of Ukraine, according to AP.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby declined to pinpoint on Wednesday when the Abrams will be delivered, but said the German-made Leopards are expected to make their way to Ukrainian forces more quickly.

Russia’s ambassador to Germany, Sergey Nechayev, called Berlin’s decision to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine “extremely dangerous” and said it “shifts the conflict to a new level of confrontation.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy applauded Biden for the “powerful decision to provide Abrams,” declaring on Twitter that “the free world is united as never before” in the 11-month-old war.

The decision to move forward with providing the tanks is a reversal for the Biden administration, which until now had been resisting pressure from Germany to send them to Ukraine.

Last week, US officials said that the US is finalizing a massive package of military aid for Ukraine that would include 100 Stryker combat vehicles and at least 50 Bradley armored vehicles, but not tanks.