American lawmakers on Sunday pushed the U.S. government to export M1 Abrams main battle tanks to Ukraine, saying that even sending a symbolic number to Kyiv would be enough to push European allies to do the same.
Michael McCaul, the newly installed Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told ABC's "This Week" that "just one" Abrams tank would be enough to prompt allies, notably Germany, to unlock their own tank inventories for the fight against Russia.
"Even saying that we're going to put Abrams tanks in would be enough," he said.
McCaul said that some members of his party still need to be convinced of what's at stake.
“I think there’s enough support (for Ukraine) on both sides of the aisle. Majority in the Democratic Party, majority in the Republican,” McCaul said in a CNN interview, also on Sunday. But he added, “We have to educate our members. I don’t think they quite understand what’s at stake.”
“If Ukraine falls, Chairman Xi in China’s going to invade Taiwan. It’s Russia, China. Iran is putting drones in Crimea, and North Korea that is putting artillery into Russia. They have to understand the case. And they talk about the border, not mutually exclusive at all. We can do both. We’re a great country. We can walk and chew gum at the same time,” McCaul said.
Ukrainian officials have been calling on Western allies for months to supply them with modern tanks as the country fights against a full-scale Russian invasion.
Britain recently announced it was supplying 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, but the real prize are Germany's Leopard 2 heavy tanks, which Ukraine's allies are in a position to supply. Pressure has been mounting on Berlin for weeks to send some of its Leopards to Ukraine or at least approve their transfer from third countries.
But Germany appears to have tied any such contribution to a U.S. move to send its own Abrams tanks, something American officials have said they are reluctant to do because the vehicles are complicated to maintain. Democratic Senator Chris Coons told ABC that it was time to set aside those concerns.
"If it requires our sending some Abrams tanks to unlock getting the Leopard tanks from Germany, from Poland, from other allies I would support that," he said.
"I respect that our military leaders think the Abrams is too sophisticated, too expensive a platform to be as useful as the Leopards, but we need to continue to work with our close allies and move forward in lock step."
Meanwhile, the speaker of Russia's parliament warned Sunday that countries supplying Ukraine with more powerful weapons risked their own destruction, a message that followed new pledges of armored vehicles, air defense systems and other equipment but not the battle tanks Kyiv requested.
“Supplies of offensive weapons to the Kyiv regime would lead to a global catastrophe,” State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin said. “If Washington and NATO supply weapons that would be used for striking peaceful cities and making attempts to seize our territory as they threaten to do, it would trigger a retaliation with more powerful weapons.”
Ukraine's supporters pledged billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine on Friday, though the new commitments were overshadowed by defense leaders failing at an international meeting in Ramstein, Germany, to agree on Ukraine's urgent request for German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks.
Germany is one of the main donors of weapons to Ukraine, and it ordered a review of its Leopard 2 stocks in preparation for a possible green light. Nonetheless, the government in Berlin has shown caution at each step of increasing its commitments to Ukraine, a hesitancy seen as rooted in its history and political culture.
Its tentativeness has drawn heavy criticism, particularly from Poland and the Baltic states, countries on NATO's eastern flank controlled by Moscow in the past and which feel especially threatened by Russia's renewed imperial ambitions.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that if Germany does not consent to transferring Leopard tanks to Ukraine, his country was prepared to build a “smaller coalition” of countries that would send theirs anyway.
“Almost a year had passed since the outbreak of war," Morawiecki said in an interview with Polish state news agency PAP published Sunday. "Evidence of the Russian army’s war crimes can be seen on television and on YouTube. What more does Germany need to open its eyes and start to act in line with the potential of the German state?”
“Above all, Berlin should not weaken or sabotage the activities of other countries,” Morawiecki said.
In Washington, two leading lawmakers urged the U.S. on Sunday to send some of its Abrams tanks to Ukraine, in the interests of overcoming Germany’s reluctance to share its own, more suitable Leopard 2 tanks.
“If we announced we were giving an Abrams tank, just one, that would unleash” the flow of tanks from Germany, McCaul said. “What I hear is that Germany’s waiting on us to take the lead.”
“I am concerned that Russia is rearming and preparing for a spring offensive," Coons said. "If it requires our sending some Abrams tanks in order to unlock getting the Leopard tanks from Germany, from Poland, from other allies, I would support that.”
Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of the Russian Security Council, said the meeting in Ramstein “left no doubt that our enemies will try to exhaust or better destroy us,” adding that “they have enough weapons” to achieve the purpose.
Medvedev, a former Russian president, warned on his messaging app channel that Russia could seek to form a military alliance with foes of the United States. He didn’t name the nations he had in mind, but Russia has defense cooperation with Iran and Venezuela, an existing military alliance with Belarus and strong ties with North Korea.. Since invading Ukraine, Russia also has increased both the scope and the number of its joint military drills with China.
“In case of a protracted conflict, a new military alliance will emerge that will include the nations that are fed up with the Americans and a pack of their castrated dogs," Medvedev said.
Ukraine is asking for more weapons as it anticipates Russia's forces launching a new offensive in the spring.
Oleksii Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s Security and Defense Council, warned that Russia may try to intensify its attacks in the south and in the east and to cut supply channels of Western weapons, while conquering Kyiv “remains the main dream” in President Vladimir Putin’s "fantasies,” he said.
He described the Kremlin’s goal in the conflict as a “total and absolute genocide, a total war of destruction.”
“Moscow wants to completely destroy Ukraine as a historical phenomenon — its language, history, culture, carriers of Ukrainian identity,” Danilov wrote in a column published by Ukrainska Pravda.
Among those calling for more arms for Ukraine was the former British prime minister, Boris Johnson, who made a surprise trip to Ukraine on Sunday.
“This is the moment to double down and to give the Ukrainians all the tools they need to finish the job. The sooner Putin fails, the better for Ukraine and for the whole world,” Johnson said in a statement.
Johnson, who faces fresh questions at home over his personal finances, was pictured in the Kyiv region town of Borodyanka. He said he traveled to Ukraine at the invitation of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The last week was especially tragic for Ukraine even by the standards of a brutal war that has gone on for nearly a year, killing tens of thousands of people, uprooting millions more and creating vast destruction of Ukrainian cities.
A barrage of Russian missiles struck an apartment complex in the southeastern city of Dnipro on Jan. 14, killing at least 45 civilians, including six children. On Wednesday, a government helicopter carrying the interior minister and other officials crashed into a building housing a kindergarten in a suburb of Kyiv. The minister and a child on the ground were among the 14 people killed.
Zelenskyy, who on Saturday mourned the victims of the helicopter crash, vowed Sunday that Ukraine would prevail in the war.
“We are united because we are strong. We are strong because we are united," the Ukrainian leader said in a video address as he marked Ukraine Unity Day, which commemorates the day in 1919 when East and West Ukraine were united.
“Dear invincible people, Happy Ukrainian Unity Day!” he said.
Material from the Associated Press was also used in this story.
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