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Inside Washington’s about-face on sending tanks to Ukraine

“It would have been better for Germany’s international reputation to decide more quickly. In particular, many countries in Europe were annoyed to make the delivery dependent on the United States,” Hofreiter said.

“But better late than never,” he added.

Even now the U.S. administration — which never ruled out sending the Abrams — is warning that it will be months before Ukraine will be able to use the tanks on the battlefield. But officials said the decision was made to begin buying the tanks now so that when they arrive on the battlefield, Ukrainian forces will be able to maintain and operate them.

DoD is now working through the logistical challenges of delivering the Abrams and supporting them on the battlefield, said a senior administration official. The military will be setting up a “very careful” training program to teach the Ukrainians how to maintain, sustain and operate the weapons, “which do require a good deal of assistance,” the official said.

At the same time, DoD is training Ukrainians on combined arms maneuver tactics, which will allow Ukrainian forces to integrate the Abrams and other armored capabilities into their overall operations.

In a Wednesday morning call with Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, Austin didn’t give a timeline for when the first Abrams might arrive. The priority for now, he added, should be on training the Ukrainians on Leopard tanks, along with U.S.-supplied Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, and new mobile howitzers and other heavy armor recently announced by Western partners.

In an interview, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal was far more optimistic about the timeframe.

“We are aware of the fact that training soldiers to operate Abrams tanks takes months. But we are also convinced that the United States have decided to provide Ukrainians with the insight, rapid training program for tank cooperation,” he said. “And this may mean that jointly with the highly motivated Ukrainian fighters, this training might take weeks rather than months.”

Now that the dustup appears to have been settled for now, not everyone is ecstatic at how the whole process played out.

“Germany is still very afraid of Russia. That is the reality,” said Oleksii Goncharenko, a member of Ukraine’s Parliament. “They are still playing these games about defensive weapons versus offensive weapons. It is nonsense because the war is a defensive war for us.”

A senior Polish official said Scholz’s delay was looked at “with embarrassment.” The chancellor “bears full political and moral responsibility for his decisions, and he will be accountable for his decision to voters and history.”

Biden allies are happy, however, with Coons telling POLITICO he was “encouraged” by all that developed over the last 24 hours. “It’s a positive announcement from our friends and partners in Germany.”

Erin Banco, Nahal Toosi, Lili Bayer and Lee Hudson contributed to this report.

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