The U.S. and Germany will send armored vehicles and an additional Patriot air defense system to Ukraine, a significant upgrade in firepower urgently sought by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the fight against Russia’s invasion.
The U.S. will provide its Bradley Fighting Vehicles while Germany is sending its Marder vehicles, the leaders said Thursday in a joint statement. Germany also will provide Ukraine a Patriot battery — the second headed to the country after the U.S. said last month that it would send one of the powerful air-defense systems.
President Joe Biden discussed the moves in a call with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz Thursday.
“President Biden and Chancellor Scholz expressed their common determination to continue to provide the necessary financial, humanitarian, military and diplomatic support to Ukraine for as long as needed,” the leaders said in the statement.
Armored vehicles have been near the top of Zelenskyy’s wish list as his forces seek to counter the tanks and other armored vehicles that have been a key advantage for Russia in the conflict so far. During a visit to the U.S. last month, he reiterated the need for heavier weapons. One person familiar with the matter said the U.S. was sending about 50 of the Bradleys built by BAE Systems Plc, as reported earlier by Reuters.
“Ukraine never asked the American soldiers to fight on our land instead of us,” Zelenskyy told Congress in a speech on Dec. 21. “I assure you that Ukrainian soldiers can perfectly operate American tanks and planes themselves.”
U.S. officials had previously balked at the idea of sending armored vehicles, saying that heavier weapons would be too difficult for Ukraine to operate and maintain. But allies already have announced moves to provide such weapons. Poland has provided tanks, and France said on Wednesday that it will send its AMX-10RC armored vehicles.
The U.S. vehicles, which are armored infantry vehicles equipped with anti-tank missiles capable of carrying troops into combat, will be part of a presidential drawdown of equipment from existing Pentagon inventories. The Defense Department is expected to formally announce that drawdown on Friday.
Ukrainian officials have warned that Russia may be gearing up for a fresh offensive in the spring. Equally, the warmer weather might let Kyiv’s forces press the advantage, having pushed Russian forces out of areas they occupied in the early days of the war.
Other people familiar with the matter, who also asked not to be identified discussing private deliberations, said earlier Wednesday that Germany was nearing a decision to send dozens of Marder vehicles from company stocks.
“In the past, we have always tailored our support for the Ukrainian army to the situation,” Robert Habeck, Germany’s economy minister and vice chancellor, said Thursday during a visit to Oslo. “Now France has decided to supply light armor systems, and the U.S. has indicated plans to do the same. That will certainly influence the German debate as well.”
Scholz has come under renewed pressure from political allies in Germany to step up efforts to support Ukraine with more heavy weapons after France pledged to deliver combat vehicles. In an editorial in Germany’s Bild newspaper recently, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko called on Germany to send its Leopard tanks, saying it would be difficult otherwise to capture more territory from Russia.
Although the Bradley Fighting Vehicle is lighter than a tank, David Perkins, a retired U.S. four-star general, said last month that it would be a “significant improvement over current Ukrainian fighting vehicles” and is “more than a match” for Russia’s infantry fighting vehicles and its T-72 tanks.
While on vacation in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands over the holidays in late December, Biden signed a $1.7 trillion government funding bill that included $47 billion in additional aid for Ukraine. The U.S. has already appropriated about $65 billion in such aid.
With assistance from Courtney McBride and Tony Capaccio.