WASHINGTON — The Biden administration will work with allies to transfer Soviet-made tanks to bolster Ukraine’s defenses in the country’s eastern Donbas region, a US official said Friday.
The decision to act as an intermediary to transfer the Soviet-made tanks, which Ukrainian troops know how to use, comes in response to a request from Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, the official said. It is the first time in the war that the United States has helped to transfer tanks.
The official said the transfers would begin soon, but declined to say how many tanks would be shipped or which countries they would come from. They will allow Ukraine to conduct long-range artillery strikes on Russian targets in Donbas, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak publicly.
The arrival of the tanks could signal a new phase in the war, which is five weeks old and dominated by Russian airborne attacks on Ukrainian cities and installations, and a stalled Russian advance on the ground. Earlier this week, Russian officials indicated they were shifting their efforts to eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian soldiers since 2014.
Zelensky on Sunday called on NATO allies to provide tanks and planes, in addition to the anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons that have become a staple of arms transfers to Ukraine from the West. Frustrated at what he sees as a slow pace of arms transfers, Mr. Zelensky specifically about tanks, in comments a day after President Biden met senior Ukrainian officials in Poland.
An angry Mr. Zelensky criticized the West for what he called his “ping pong” over arms transfers. “I spoke to Mariupol’s defenders today,” he said, referring to the besieged city that has been under attack by Russia for four weeks. “If only those who spent 31 days thinking about handing in dozens of jets and tanks had had 1 percent of their courage.”
In the past, the Biden administration has gone to great lengths to label the weapons it supplies to Ukraine as defensive and has focused on smaller, easily portable weapons. But as the war progressed, the definition of defensive has become more elastic.
Ukraine had already found one source of tanks, which captured at least 161 from Russia on the battlefield, according to the military analysis site Oryx, although Russia has also destroyed a number of Ukrainian tanks. Russia, for its part, has captured 43 Ukrainian tanks, according to analysts studying photos and videos on social media.
The decision to transfer the tanks comes as the Ukrainian army has continued to reverse the Russian advance. Pentagon officials have been quick to point out that Russia’s pivot to Donbas and away from capturing Kiev, the capital, could be a necessity for Moscow after Russian forces ground to a halt in the central part of the country.
On Wednesday, officials of the Biden administration, citing declassified US intelligence, said that Russia’s President Vladimir V. Putin had been misinformed by his advisers about the Russian military’s problems in Ukraine. The intelligence agency, US officials said, also revealed what appeared to be growing tension between Mr Putin and his defense secretary, Sergei K. Shoigu, who was once one of the most trusted members of the Kremlin’s inner circle.
Russian officials have disputed the allegations, and the Kremlin on Thursday called it a “complete misunderstanding” about the situation that could have “bad consequences”.
SOURCE – www.nytimes.com