Despite German efforts to pressure the United States to provide Ukraine with Abrams tanks, top Pentagon leaders are against sending them, three US officials said.

The German government has signaled that it can send its own Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine if the US also agrees to send the M1 Abrams to Ukraine, and Foreign Minister Olaf Scholz insisted that Germany will only act in concert with the allies.

The three US officials said Berlin has tried to put the US on the spot over sending Abrams tanks, and there has been frustration within the Biden administration with Germany back and forth. Officials insist that German pressure will not work.

At the same time, officials said that President Joe Biden would not pressure Germany to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine.

When asked Friday about sending Abrams tanks to Ukraine, Biden was non-committal. “Ukraine is going to get all the help it needs,” he said.

But both Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley have recommended against sending M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, the three US officials said.

Milley and Austin mentioned how long it takes to train staff to operate the tanks and how difficult it is to maintain the tanks. They have also argued that they are not the right vehicles for the fight in Ukraine at the moment, according to officials.

A US official said Austin has argued that training to operate and maintain the tanks would take months, and while the Ukrainians have proven adept at learning many new platforms, he remains reluctant to send the Abrams.

A Polish Leopard tank takes part in a military exercise in Nowogard, Poland, on May 19, 2022.
A Polish Leopard tank takes part in a military exercise in Nowogard, Poland, on May 19, 2022. Wojtek Radwanski / AFP – File Getty Images

Two US officials also noted that Ukraine already has hundreds of tanks at its disposal and over the past year has captured hundreds of Russian tanks on the battlefield and added them to its inventory.

On Friday, Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder declined to comment on Austin’s and Milley’s views on the matter, saying in a statement that their comments at Ramstein airbase in Germany about the US tanks “speak for themselves. We are not going to have anything additional to offer.”

Austin hosted the Ramstein Ukraine Contact Group, a gathering of nearly 50 nations to discuss aid and contributions to Ukraine.

During public comments on Friday, Austin appeared to allude to what US officials have said his position has been privately: that he does not see the tanks as critical to the ongoing fighting in Ukraine and that they cannot be brought online immediately.

Austin deflected a question about the tanks by saying: «What we’re really focused on is making sure Ukraine has the capability it needs to be successful right now.»

“We have a window of opportunity here. You know, between now and the spring when I, you know, every time they start their operation, their counteroffensive. And that’s not a long time. And we have to bring together the right capabilities.”

At the end of the meetings on Friday, the Germans did not announce that they would send Leopard tanks to Ukraine.

Ukrainian military leaders have said they need 300 tanks to break through Russian defenses.

“In order for us to defeat the Russian Federation, we absolutely need tanks,” said Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine. “The fact is that the question of which weapon is needed is determined by the military. It is the military that insists that tanks and heavy artillery are crucial today.»

Danilov said that Ukrainian troops would learn to “master” the use of new tanks “in a month, because we are in a state of war. … [W]We learn very quickly about any equipment that helps us destroy the enemy.”

“As soon as the decision is made and the tanks are provided, we will go through very quick training and, believe me, they will be used with the incredible power that this or that weapon has. We’ve already shown that many times.»

Mykhailo Podolyak, a top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, on Saturday urged Kyiv’s allies to «think faster» about increasing their military support.

«You will help Ukraine with the necessary weapons anyway and you will realize that there is no other option to end the war except the defeat of Russia,» he wrote on Twitter. “But today’s indecision is killing more of our people. Every day of delay is the death of Ukrainians. Think faster.

Stryker, Bradley, MRAP

Others in the US government besides Milley and Austin also seem entrenched in not sending the Abrams tanks.

A spokesman for the National Security Council echoed some of the concerns that US officials have been emphasizing in private, saying that Abrams tanks are “very expensive to run, very expensive to fuel, very expensive to maintain and [require] lots of training.»

Instead of Abrams tanks, Milley and Austin have advocated sending in armored vehicles, including Strykers, Bradleys, MRAPs, and others. “These provide strategic flexibility while being able to move troops around the battlefield,” the US official said, and the armor provides protection against Russian attacks.

A US Abrams tank at the training ground in Nowa Deba, Poland, on September 21, 2022.
A US Abrams tank at the training ground in Nowa Deba, Poland, on September 21, 2022.File Artur Widak / AP

US officials said opposition within the Biden administration to sending Abrams tanks to Ukraine was not due to concerns that Russia would view the move as an escalation.

Boris Pistorius, the new German defense minister, similarly denied that Germany’s hesitation is based on concerns about Russian retaliation. He said Germany is still weighing its decision, is ready to act quickly if there is an agreement with the allies, and would make a decision «as soon as possible.»

“We are not afraid of anything,” Pistorius said. «We only have one responsibility for our population in Germany and in Europe and we have to weigh all the pros and cons before deciding things like that.»

He added: «And I’m very sure there will be a decision before long, but I don’t know when and I don’t know what the decision will look like.»

Last week the British government announced it would provide Challenger 2 tanks in the coming weeks, but the Germans have still resisted.