“Tanks but no tanks” and “Free the Leopards” were the clever headlines earlier this week about Ukraine.

President Biden welcomes Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the South Lawn of the White House on Dec. 21. Biden’s announcement Wednesday that the U.S. would send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine much later this year called Germany’s bluff. Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced Wednesday that Germany will now deliver 14 badly needed Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv. Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS

They referred to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s frustrating refusal to send badly needed Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine to help Kyiv break the current military stalemate with Russia. Scholz kept insisting the U.S. must first send M1 Abrams tanks, even though the German tanks are far more suitable for the Ukrainian battlefield and can be delivered more quickly. However, the Leopards were finally freed Wednesday – coincidentally the birthday of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky – thanks to a sudden but smart political decision by President Biden.

Reversing past U.S. reluctance to send the M1s, Biden announced Wednesday that 31 of these most sophisticated U.S. tanks will be delivered to Ukraine much later this year. His snap policy turnaround called Scholz’s bluff. Germany will now deliver 14 Leopards and green-light other European allies to send some of the German tanks they have in their arsenals, with a goal of delivering at least 70 fairly soon to Kyiv.

Yet Biden’s tank decision has wider, positive implications for the broad allied effort to help Ukraine in its struggle. It signals the president has finally concluded that NATO allies must do more than help Ukraine defend against Russian aggressors. They must enable Kyiv to drive the invaders out of its land.

For those concerned that the M1 decision will “expand” the war, here are six reasons why Biden’s decision was the right one – and why the White House must do what it takes to get Kyiv whatever weapons it needs, in order to roll the Russians back from Ukraine this year.

1. An unforgiving calendar. Sufficient weapons, soonest, would enable Kyiv to hit the Russians hard before any offensive – and before a new Republican House majority threatens to cut Ukraine aid.


2. The urgent need for tanks. If the nimble Ukrainians can break through Russian lines and cut off Russia’s land bridge to Crimea, they will take a huge step toward defeating Putin’s army.

3. This time, German tank drivers are the good guys. Yes, the German public is ambivalent, recalling uneasily how Nazi tanks rolled over Russia (then including Ukraine) during World War II. And Moscow’s propagandists are promoting that image. But Russia is now playing the Nazi role with its genocidal effort to wipe out the Ukrainian state and slaughter its civilians. This time, German tanks are manned by the good guys.

4. Confirming NATO’s unity. It was important for Biden to call Scholz’s bluff and cement a stronger German role in supporting Ukraine. The German leader’s dithering over the Leopards was creating the impression for Moscow that the NATO alliance could still be splintered over help to Ukraine. Biden was correct to haul Scholz back into the fold.

5. A few U.S. tanks are a small price to pay. It was worth promising M1 tanks to prod Scholz into action. True, the U.S. tank is much heavier than the Leopard, unsuited to Ukrainian roads and runs most often on hard-to-procure jet fuel rather than diesel. But the short-term objective here was to free the Leopards, since there are 2,000 of them in various European countries, meaning an allied coalition could send them fairly quickly to Ukraine.

6. Biden’s new clarity about the war’s endgame. The president’s willingness to deliver advanced U.S. tanks appears to indicate he’s dropped his ambivalence about a Ukrainian victory, along with the false distinction between “offensive” and “defensive” weapons. As he correctly said Wednesday, Ukraine’s battle is “not an offensive threat to Russia. If Russia returned to its territory, this war would be over today.”

Having signed off on tanks, now is the moment for the White House and NATO allies to send the other key weapons Ukraine still needs – the air defenses and long-range munitions that can make the difference between stalemate and victory. Freeing the Leopards should be a giant step toward ending Putin’s war in 2023.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.