President Joe Biden announced on Jan. 25 that the U.S. would provide Ukraine with 31 tanks. After the announcement, a meme on social media misquoted Biden’s remarks from March 2022, suggesting he said that sending tanks to Ukraine would cause World War III. Biden said sending weapons “with American pilots and American crews” would cause a world war.
Since the outset of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Ukrainian government has received assistance from numerous countries in the form of economic and military support. In preparation for the next phase of the war, Ukrainian officials have repeatedly lobbied their Western allies for more modernized equipment, including longer-range missile systems and tanks.
Requests for the missiles have been denied, so far, for fears of escalating the war further. The U.S. continually rebuffed Ukraine’s request for tanks because of the training it takes to operate and maintain Abrams tanks.
In January, after a series of talks among Ukraine, the U.S. and other allies, multiple countries agreed to supply tanks to Ukraine. Those countries who have committed to or expressed willingness to send tanks so far have been the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Poland and the U.S.
Biden announced on Jan. 25 that the U.S. would supply Ukraine with 31 M1 Abrams tanks along with eight M88 recovery vehicles, which are vehicles designed to aid in the operation and recovery of Abrams tanks. The U.S. announcement prompted Germany to give its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine after previously refusing to do so unless the U.S. acted first.
In his Jan. 25 remarks, Biden explained the decision to supply tanks, stating, “They need to be able to counter Russia’s evolving tactics and strategy on the battlefield in the very near term. They need to improve their ability to maneuver in open terrain. And they need an enduring capability to deter and defend against Russian aggression over the long term.”
He also said, “It is not an offensive threat to Russia,” describing the tanks as needed to “defend and protect Ukrainian land.”
The Abrams tanks, procured through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, are expected to take weeks to arrive in Ukraine, in part due to the training of Ukrainian operators.
After Biden made the announcement, a meme was shared on Instagram and Twitter that misleadingly edited a statement by Biden from March 2022, claiming he said: “The idea that we’re going to send tanks to Ukraine, that’s called World War III.”
The bottom half of the meme contained a line from his Jan. 25 comments that the U.S. would now supply tanks to Ukraine.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk responded to the meme on Twitter, writing, “The war is escalating quickly.”
The original tweet received more than 20 million views, and Musk’s response had over 16 million views.
But the posts misquote Biden’s 2022 statement to the House Democratic Caucus in Philadelphia nearly a year ago (emphasis ours).
Biden, March 11, 2022: But look, the idea — the idea that we’re going to send in offensive equipment and have planes and tanks and trains going in with American pilots and American crews, just understand – and don’t kid yourself, no matter what you all say – that’s called “World War Three.” Okay?
The clarifying point in the original quote — but omitted in the meme — is that the addition of American personnel along with offensive equipment to Ukraine could lead to World War III.
In an email to FactCheck.org on Feb. 9 responding to the social media posts, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department stated, “As President Biden has said, America’s goal is straightforward: We want to see a democratic, independent, sovereign and prosperous Ukraine with the means to deter and defend itself against further aggression.”
The spokesperson also noted that Biden wrote in an essay in the New York Times on May 31, 2022: “We do not seek war between NATO and Russia. As much as I disagree with Mr. Putin, and find his actions an outrage, the United States will not try to bring about his ouster in Moscow. So long as the United States or our allies are not attacked, we will not be directly engaged in this conflict, either by sending American troops to fight in Ukraine or by attacking Russian forces. We are not encouraging or enabling Ukraine to strike beyond its borders. We do not want to prolong the war just to inflict pain on Russia.”
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.
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