Joe Biden and his German counterpart, Olaf Scholz, agreed to send infantry fighting vehicles to help Ukraine fight Russia, a day after France announced it would provide armored vehicles to Kiev in a bid to make a breakthrough in the 10-month war.
The joint announcement follows a phone call between Biden and Scholz and amounts to a sea change in Western military support for Ukraine, which has called for up to 700 armored vehicles to drive out the Russians.
A press release issued by the White House on Thursday said: “The United States intends to supply Ukraine with Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, and Germany intends to supply Ukraine with Marder infantry fighting vehicles.”
Ukraine has repeatedly said it needs 600 to 700 infantry fighting vehicles and 300 western tanks to give its army a chance to break through increasingly fortified Russian positions along the route.
But until now, the US and Germany have been reluctant to provide NATO-standard armor to Ukraine, fearing that it could be interpreted as an escalation by Russia. But even though both countries have stopped sending tanks, the decision to supply the West with armored vehicles is significant.
The White House added that Germany will provide Patriot air defense systems to Ukraine in addition to what the United States promised last month. Both countries will train the Ukrainian military in Marders and Bradleys, although it was not immediately clear how many of each would be supplied.
Scholz’s deputy spoke in favor. “It’s a good decision,” said Robert Habeck, Germany’s vice chancellor and economy minister, whose department is supposed to give the green light to arms exports.
“Since the beginning of the war, we have continuously expanded our support in coordination with our partners. It is logical for us to take this step.
“Ukraine has the right to defend itself against Russia’s attack, and we are obliged to help it.”
France announced on Wednesday that it is increasing its military aid to Kiev by providing an undisclosed number of AMX-10 RC light armored vehicles, which experts say can act as reconnaissance and support main battle tanks. A few hours later, Biden hinted that the United States was considering tracking the Bradleys.
On Thursday, senior German ministers said their country’s position was also changing rapidly. Habeck said during a visit to Norway’s capital Oslo that Germany’s position had never been “static” and would be influenced by the willingness of France and the United States to “deliver lighter tanks.”
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock made similar comments. “I have repeatedly emphasized that we are working with our partners to see what military support Ukraine requires,” he said after a meeting with his British counterpart James Cleverley in London. He himself wisely said that the tanks could be part of the next phase of the arms transfer.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Tuesday that Paris’s decision “is a clear signal to all our other partners: there is no logical reason why Ukraine should not be equipped with Western-style tanks yet.”
Ukraine has long looked to Western tanks and armor to supplement its dwindling fleet of Soviet-made T-64 and T-72 tanks and BMP infantry fighting vehicles after more than 10 months of fighting.
Since the start of the war, Kyiv has bought about 200 post-Soviet tanks from Eastern European countries, but supplies currently available in Europe are limited.
Ukraine has been trying to acquire American-made Leopard 2 or M1A1 Abrams tanks to boost its reserves and create a new offensive force, but lobbying efforts over the past year have been unsuccessful.
“Tanks are potentially crucial because if you want to attack enemy formations in defensive positions, there’s no substitute,” Ben Barry, a former British army tank commander and ground warfare analyst, told the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank.
After Russia abandoned its open position in Kherson on the west bank of the Dnieper River in November, it has been trying to consolidate its grip on an area roughly the size of Portugal in eastern and southern Ukraine.
If a breakthrough occurs, it will likely require the combined use of tanks, heavy armor and infantry, repeating standard offensive tactics from World War II. “With just three or four tanks, the effectiveness of the infantry is doubled,” Barry said.
French six-wheeled AMX-10 RCs were first deployed in the 1980s and have been used in many operations from Afghanistan to Mali. However, they are being phased out by Paris, making them an ideal gift for Ukraine.
French presidential aide Emmanuel Macron said it was “the first time Western-designed tanks have been supplied to Ukraine’s armed forces,” but experts said the AMX-10 RC was too lightly armored to be considered a real tank. .
Additional reporting by Patrick Wintour