In mid-January, the UK became the first Western country to send Ukraine main battle tanks, the Challenger II. This move ramped up the pressure on Germany, which makes the Leopard II, one of the world’s most advanced tanks that are favored by the country’s allies.
However, Berlin was concerned about the possibility of drawing Russia into a broader European conflict, and as a result, it refused to allow its allies to send their German-made tanks to Ukraine unless the United States agreed to send their own main battle tanks, the M1 Abrams.
This stance frustrated some European allies, especially those close to the front lines, and the Pentagon, which had already given Ukraine Bradley fighting vehicles, initially opposed sending the Abrams.
The M1 Abrams is a powerful system, but it is also very expensive to operate, fuel, maintain, and requires a lot of training. However, after days of intense diplomacy, the U.S. reversed course and agreed to send the Abrams tanks as part of a package deal that unlocked a supply of Leos for Ukraine.
The sending of these tanks to Ukraine marks a big step up in Western aid and a symbolic victory for Ukraine. However, the intense negotiations and diplomatic scramble over the tanks also exposed some cracks in the Western alliance.
The U.S.’s initial opposition to sending the Abrams and Germany’s stance over the Leos frustrated some European allies and reinforced the notion that Europe is dependent on the U.S. when it comes to responding to the war in Ukraine.
The challenges for the Western alliance lie ahead, as Russian leaders are under pressure to prevent the war from spilling out of Ukraine and into their own country. However, as they boost military spending, they are facing backlash at home as they try to cut back on social programs.
U.S. politics also pose a concern, with divisions between the Biden administration and the Republican-controlled House potentially jeopardizing future funding for Ukraine. Additionally, with the 2024 election coming up, there are fears that the political will to fund Ukraine may weaken.
Advocates for supporting Ukraine are urging the Western alliance to do as much as they can, as soon as they can. The diplomatic challenges over sending the tanks to Ukraine have highlighted the importance of unity and cooperation among the Western nations in their efforts to support Ukraine and address the ongoing conflict.