Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. on Thursday accused the Biden administration of trying to inflict “strategic defeat” on Russia with the decision to provide Ukraine with a battalion’s worth of its top-of-the-line M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks, in an escalating war of words over Western military support for Kyiv.
Ambassador Anatoly Antonov complained that Washington has regularly raised the bar on the weapons it has sent to Ukraine since the Russian invaded in February 2022. Even before the Abrams tank announcement, the Pentagon had delivered almost 200 howitzers, hundreds of armored personnel carriers and dozens of mobile rocket systems, among other materiel.
But the U.S. and allies like Germany have also tried to put a cap on the assistance, saying they are not trying to spark a direct war between Russia and NATO. The Abrams decision, coupled with Berlin’s agreement to allow its Leopard-2 battle tanks to be sent to Ukraine, has only raised tensions.
“There is no doubt that if a decision is made to transfer the M1 Abrams to Kyiv, American tanks will be destroyed by our military in the same way as all other samples of NATO equipment are destroyed,” Mr. Antonov said this week on his Telegram social media page.
The complaints came on a day of yet another Russian bombing campaign in Ukraine, with missiles and self-exploding drones launched at nearly a dozen Ukrainian provinces early Thursday. The shelling resulted in the first war-related death in Kyiv in 2023 and killed at least 11 people across the country, Ukrainian authorities told The Associated Press.
Kyiv city officials said Ukrainian air defenses shot down another 15 Russian cruise missiles. Russia has resorted to the air campaign as its ground offensive has bogged down badly in eastern and southern Ukraine.
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A Pentagon spokeswoman accused Russian officials of crying wolf over their claims, calling Moscow the clear aggressor in the fight and noting the new salvo of missiles Thursday targeting Ukrainian cities and civilian infrastructure sites.
“The only ‘escalation’ here is the continuing barrage of Russian strikes against an electrical grid or killing innocent Ukrainian civilians,” Sabrina Singh said. “I don’t see our support for Ukraine as any ‘escalation.’”
President Biden has insisted that his decision to supply Ukraine with 31 M1A2 Abrams tanks shouldn’t imply a threat to Russia. But officials in the Kremlin said they aren’t satisfied with his assurances and similar comments from European leaders.
“We strongly disagree with this. Moscow perceives everything that both the alliance and the capitals I have mentioned have been doing as direct involvement in the conflict. We see that it is growing,” Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, said Thursday, according to the official Russian TASS news agency.
In military terms, at least, security analysts with the Institute for the Study of War think tank said Moscow has good reason to be concerned about the latest security assistance packages coming from the West, even as they play them down in official statements.
“The Kremlin and its allies are right to be concerned about these new Western commitments, which allow Ukrainian commanders to plan against replacements for tank losses they could expect in counter-offensive operations that might be launched even before the Western tanks begin to arrive,” according to the think tank’s analysis.
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The AP reported that the British government would start training Ukrainian troops next week on how to use and fix the U.K.’s Challenger 2 tanks. The U.K. is giving 14 of the tanks to Ukraine’s forces, and Defense Minister Alex Chalk said they should arrive in Ukraine by the end of March.
Separately, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said Ukrainian crews will come to Germany soon to train on German-made Marders, which are infantry fighting vehicles, while training on the heavier Leopard 2 tanks would start “a little later.”
• This article was based in part on wire service reports.