New M1 Abrams tanks the U.S. is sending into the Ukraine war could be used to recapture the hotly contested Crimean Peninsula, which Russia claimed as its own years before launching its full-scale invasion in February.
President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday that the U.S. would for the first time send 31 of the sophisticated tanks to aid Ukraine’s war effort. Speaking anonymously during a press briefing, a senior administration official acknowledged that those tanks could roll on Crimea.
“We want to make sure that [the Ukrainians] have the capabilities to not only defend themselves against the Russian onslaught … but also that they have the ability to retake, to reclaim their sovereign territory, and that means everything that is recognized by international borders,” the official said.
The official was asked to clarify whether they meant retaking territory in Crimea or in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, where Russia purported to annex several areas last year.
“Crimea is Ukraine,” the official responded. “We’ve never recognized the illegal annexation of Crimea. But where the Ukrainians decide to go and how they decide to conduct operations in their country, those are their decisions to make.”
Russia illegally annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, kicking off a war that later erupted into the current invasion. The peninsula, brimming with Russian troops and military bases, has been used as a launchpad for Russian strikes against Ukraine.
The key bridge linking Crimea to Russia was bombed and partially disabled last year, but fighting on the peninsula would for the first time threaten territory that Russia considered its own prior to the invasion.
The U.S. had previously avoided providing weaponry powerful enough to retake the peninsula, fearing Russian retaliation, but that position has softened recently, the New York Times reported. The changing view reportedly stems from the thought that by threatening Russian control of Crimea, Ukraine could gain an upper hand in any future negotiations.
The senior administration official said that any “change” in U.S. posture reflects the need to “evolve” along with the war as it unfolds.
“I think as we all look at what’s happening now, and what we expect to happen in the future, particularly in the Donbas area, the kinds of capabilities that Ukraine really needs … are combined arms maneuver capabilities, the ability to fight effectively in open terrain particularly,” the official said.