The U.S. military is ramping up its support of Ukraine with the training of Ukrainian forces on American-made Abrams tanks.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced Friday that the training of up to 250 Ukrainian troops will begin in the coming weeks with the arrival of 31 Abrams M1A1s at a training area in Grafenwoehr, Germany.
“The M1s that the Ukrainians will use for training will arrive here in Germany in the next few weeks," Austin said at a press conference following a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed cautious optimism about the tanks. “I do think the M1 tank, when it is delivered, will make a difference," he said. "But I would also caution there's no silver bullet in war.”
The tanks are training models not suitable for combat, and the US will send another set of 31 Abrams M1A1 tanks to the battlefield this fall.
The US has already provided training to 8,800 Ukrainians, with thousands more undergoing instruction now. “In Germany, approximately 2,250 Ukrainian Soldiers – four motorized infantry battalions – continue to conduct combined arms training at Grafenwoehr and/or Hohenfels training areas," said Col. Martin O’Donnell, spokesman for U.S. Army Europe and Africa.
The US has been providing support to Ukraine since the 2014 Russian invasion, which saw the annexation of Crimea and the creation of pro-Russian separatist forces in the east. The US has provided more than $1.5 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since 2014, including U.S.-made Javelin anti-tank missiles.
The tanks and training come as tensions between Ukraine and Russia remain high after a major escalation in fighting in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine earlier this year. The US and its NATO allies have expressed concern about Russia’s buildup of troops near the Ukrainian border and its continued support for the separatists.
“The United States stands firmly with Ukraine in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression,” Austin concluded. “We remain deeply concerned about Russia’s destabilizing influence in the region.”