The United States has announced that it will provide 31 Abrams tanks to help Ukraine repel Russia's invasion, mirroring a similar move by Germany in the face of dire warnings from Moscow.
The twin announcements will come as a major relief for Kyiv which has pleaded for months for heavy Western tanks to aid its battle.
The US pledge came hours after Germany - which reportedly sought a US commitment of tanks before agreeing to send its own - approved the long-sought delivery of its powerful Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
Unlike the German tanks, however, the M1 Abrams will be procured with Ukraine assistance funding rather than directly drawn from existing US stocks, meaning they will not arrive on the battlefield for months.
US President Joe Biden, who has spoken with key European allies about supporting Kyiv's fight, was poised to deliver an address from the White House on the US tank deliveries.
"The United States will send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, which is the equivalent of one Ukrainian tank battalion," a senior administration official told journalists of the move - a significant reversal after US defense officials repeatedly described the Abrams as ill-suited for the task at hand.
"Tanks are complex systems that require a significant amount of training and maintenance," the official said, and the United States "will begin now to work to establish a comprehensive training programme."
The US Defense Department is also "working through the mechanisms to deliver the fuel and equipment Ukraine will need to operate and to maintain the Abrams," the official added.
Defence officials have raised various doubts in recent days about the suitability of the Abrams, which was first fielded by the US Army in 1980, for use in Ukraine.
Pentagon Press Secretary Brigadier General Pat Ryder said yesterday that the tank "is a very capable battlefield platform. It's also a very complex capability."
"Like anything that we're providing to Ukraine, we want to ensure that they have the ability to maintain it, sustain it, to train on it," he said.
The Abrams is armed with a 120mm main gun and .50 calibre and 7.62mm machine guns, and is powered by a 1,500 horsepower turbine engine.
Asked if Germany requested that Washington provide Abrams as a precondition for it to give Leopards, a senior official said Berlin would have to speak on the timing of its announcement, but that the United States has "closely coordinated our security assistance with allies and partners throughout the conflict."
The provision of tanks announced by the United States and Germany follow recent pledges of dozens of other armored vehicles that will aid offensive operations by Kyiv.
Washington has pledged 90 Stryker armoured personnel carriers and 109 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, while Germany promised about 40 of its Marder vehicles, Britain said it would provide 14 Challenger 2 heavy tanks, and France will give AMX-10 RC light tanks.
"You're going to see hundreds of armored vehicles - exceptionally capable vehicles - and tanks arriving in Ukraine. And importantly, they will be arriving with trained crews," a senior US official said.
Kyiv has been calling for months for Western main battle tanks that would give its forces greater firepower, protection and mobility to break through Russian front lines and potentially reclaim occupied territory in the east and south.
Germany, previously the West's holdout, said it would send an initial company of 14 of its Leopard 2 tanks from its own stocks, and also approve shipments by other European countries.
The eventual aim would be to supply Ukraine with two battalions of Leopards, typically comprising three or four companies each, the first to arrive within three or four months.
"Germany will always be at the forefront when it comes to supporting Ukraine," Chancellor Olaf Scholz told the German parliament, to applause.
He told a press conference later that Germany would send further military aid to Ukraine beyond the Leopards delivery, including for example air defence systems, heavy artillery and multiple rocket launchers.
'This is a dream. And this is a task.'
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Wednesday that he wants the West to send long-range missiles and jets to help repel Russian troops.
Zelensky thanked German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and US leader Joe Biden for their decision to send heavy tanks to Ukraine.
But he said Ukraine needed more weapons, including long-range missiles and jets.
"I've spoken with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg today," Zelensky said in a video address.
"We must also open deliveries of long-range missiles to Ukraine, it is important - we must expand our cooperation in artillery," Zelensky said, also adding Ukraine needed jets.
"This is a dream. And this is a task."
He also urged Western countries to send tanks quickly and in sufficient volumes.
"Speed and volume are key now," he said, referring to deliveries and training of soldiers.
"The terrorist state must lose," Zelensky said, referring to Russia.
"The more defence support our heroes at the front receive from the world, the faster Russia's aggression will end."
'So, the tank coalition is formed'
The move lifts one of the last taboos in Western support for Ukraine against Russia's almost year-old invasion: providing arms that have a mainly offensive rather than defensive purpose.
"So, the tank coalition is formed. Everyone who doubted this could ever happen sees now: for Ukraine and partners impossible is nothing," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.
"I call on all new partners that have Leopard 2 tanks in service to join the coalition and provide as many of them as possible," he wrote on Twitter.
The Russian embassy in Berlin denounced Germany's "extremely dangerous decision" which, it said, "destroys the remnants of mutual trust" and could draw Germany into the war. Scholz pledged that no such thing would happen.
Berlin's move paves the way for pledges from other countries that field Leopards, which Germany made in the thousands and exported to allies in NATO.
Finland said it would send them, as did Poland, which has already sought Berlin's approval. Spain and the Netherlands said they were considering it and Norway was reported to be discussing it. Britain has offered a company of 14 of its comparable Challenger tanks and France is considering sending its Leclercs.
"At a critical moment in Russia's war, these tanks can help Ukraine defend itself, win and stand as an independent nation," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.
Moscow says supplies of modern offensive weaponry to Ukraine will only postpone what it says will be its inevitable victory. Anatoly Antonov, Russia's ambassador in Washington, said deliveries of US battle tanks would be a "another blatant provocation".
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said any US tanks sent to Ukraine would "burn like all the rest".
In the past week, Russia has ramped up threats, including comments from Dmitry Medvedev, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, that a nuclear state facing defeat could use nuclear weapons.
Western officials who support sending the tanks have dismissed Moscow's threats, arguing that Russia is already waging war at full tilt and has been deterred from attacking NATO or using nuclear arms.
Last week, allies pledged billions of dollars' worth of military aid including hundreds of armoured fighting vehicles and troop carriers. Those are seen as more effective for attacking enemy lines when used alongside tanks.
Withdrawal from Soledar
Ukraine sees the latest pledge of weapons as restoring its momentum in a war that has lately become a bloody, deadlocked slog.
Kyiv has acknowledged its forces have withdrawn from Soledar, a small salt-mining town in the east that Russia had claimed to capture more than a week ago, its biggest gain for more than half a year.
The town is close to Bakhmut, a larger city that has been the focus of an intense Russian assault for weeks.
The Russian-installed governor of Ukraine's Donetsk region said units of Russia's Wagner contract militia were now moving forward inside Bakhmut, with fighting on the outskirts and in neighbourhoods recently held by Ukraine.
Reuters could not verify the situation there.
In the 11 months since it invaded, Russia has killed thousands of civilians, forced millions from their homes and reduced entire cities to rubble.
It says its "special military operation" was necessary to stem a security threat arising from Ukraine's ties to the West, which it now portrays as seeking to destroy it. Kyiv and its allies say Ukraine never menaced Russia and the invasion is a war of aggression to subdue a neighbour and seize land.
Ukraine defeated Russia's troops on the outskirts of Kyiv last year and later drove them out of swathes of occupied land.
But Moscow still occupies around a sixth of Ukraine, and has declared this territory part of Russia. Ukraine says it will not stop fighting until it retakes all its territory.
Further sackings over corruption scandal
Kyiv has dismissed more officials in its biggest political shakeup following the country's major corruption scandal linked to the Russian invasion.
Authorities announced the departure of a senior defence ministry official as well as five regional prosecutors.
Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said that an official in charge of army procurement, Bodgan Khmelnytsky, had been dismissed after being suspended in December.
The defence ministry has been accused by media of signing food contracts at prices two or three times higher than current rate for basic foodstuff.
Following the accusations the defence ministry on Tuesday announced the resignation of deputy minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov, who worked on providing logistical support for the army.
Initially the defence ministry called the media reports "false" and said it "purchases relevant products in accordance with the procedure established by law".
But today, the ministry said it was ready to "make procurement more transparent and budget funds more accessible to public control".
The head of the parliamentary anti-corruption committee, Anastasia Radina, also said that the ministry admitted "errors" related to food contracts and were "checking and examining prices to correct them".
Separately, the General Prosecutor's Office said it dismissed the regional prosecutors of the southern regions of Poltava, central Kirovograd and northern Poltava, Sumy and Chernigiv regions.
On Tuesday, Kyiv announced the dismissal of a dozen top officials including key presidential aide Kyrylo Tymoshenko.
Some of the dismissals were not linked to the food contract scandal, but to other offences.