US Abrams tanks to enter Ukraine ‘soon’: US defense secretary

US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin (L) and Ukraine’s Defence Minister Rustem Umerov have taken seat for talks at Ramstein Air Base, southwestern Germany, as they come together for an in-person Ukraine Defence Contact Group meeting on September 19, 2023. (Photo by AFP)

Ukraine will “soon” receive M1 Abrams tanks from the United States as Kyiv’s forces make “steady” progress in a counter-offensive against Moscow’s troops, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Tuesday.

Washington had promised the tanks to Kyiv at the beginning of the year, part of more than $43 billion in security assistance pledged by the United States since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

“I’m… pleased to announce that the M1 Abrams tanks that the United States had previously committed to will be entering Ukraine soon,” Austin said at the opening of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group in Germany.

The tanks will be paired with 120mm armour-piercing depleted uranium rounds that were announced earlier this month.

Such munitions are controversial due to their association with health problems, such as cancer and birth defects, in areas where they were used in past conflicts although they have not been definitively proven to have caused such issues.

Ukraine is battling Russian troops in a slow-moving counter-offensive that it launched in June, which has run into heavy defences.

Austin said the counter-offensive “continues to make steady forward progress.

“And brave Ukrainian troops are breaking through the heavily fortified lines of Russia’s army of aggression.”

The US defence chief also welcomed new Ukrainian defence minister Rustem Umerov, who was appointed earlier this month in a significant change for Kyiv, following corruption scandals at the ministry.

A senior US defence official said ahead of the meeting the meeting was an opportunity “to hear from minister Umerov himself what his vision is, what his priority is”.

“Democracies like Ukraine have… turnover in leadership all the time,” the official said, adding: “We do expect continuity (from Kyiv).”

US officials have spearheaded the push for international support for Ukraine, quickly forging a coalition to back Kyiv after Russia invaded and coordinating aid from dozens of countries through near-monthly Contact Group meetings.

Ukraine’s supporters have also provided training to Kyiv’s troops, while the United States and other countries have imposed tough sanctions on Russia.

The targets of the sanctions include financial institutions, technology imports and energy exports.