As Russian forces prepare for a renewed and expanded armor assault in eastern and southern Ukraine, the Biden Administration on Wednesday authorized a massive $800-million military aid package to help Kyiv fend off Moscow’s unprovoked invasion.
The newly announced assistance includes a wide range of weapon systems for the Ukrainian military designed to help them fight off the superior heavy forces Russia is putting into the field. The transfer includes Howitzer artillery, armored personnel carriers and Mi-17 helicopters, and a dozen advanced radar systems. It also sends the Ukrainians multiple tank-killing systems, including 500 Javelin missiles, 300 Switchblade drones and thousands of other anti-armor weapons.
The inventory of weapons and equipment was made after several conversations between U.S. and Ukraine officials regarding what was needed on the battlefield, administration officials say. The resulting list, which includes more than a dozen different items, represents an escalation of the U.S. role in the Ukrainian war. For instance, the U.S. will provide 18 155mm Howitzer cannons and 40,000 rounds for the first time. American soldiers will also directly provide training to Ukrainian forces on how to use some of the higher-end equipment such as the AN/TPQ-36 counter-artillery radars and AN/MPQ-64 Sentinel air surveillance radars.
The Ukrainian military beat back a weeks-long, blood-soaked Russian offensive in and around the capital, Kyiv, surprising the better-equipped Russian forces, but now faces an escalating threat on other fronts. The massive U.S. transfer comes after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky released an online video Wednesday warning that the war risks becoming an “endless bloodbath, spreading misery, suffering, and destruction” without additional weaponry to beat back a much larger, more technologically advanced enemy.
The weapons and equipment are being sent under a so-called “presidential drawdown authority,” which allows Biden to transfer the hardware from U.S. stocks without Congressional approval in order to speed up delivery in an emergency. The White House has now provided $1.7 billion in aid to Ukraine since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion on Feb. 24. A total of more than $2.4 billion in U.S. security assistance has flowed to Kyiv since Biden took office last year. The administration had initially relied on diplomacy with Moscow to resolve the increasing tensions in Ukraine, but Putin’s invasion prompted the U.S. to draw up more aggressive strategies to respond to Russia.
“This new package of assistance will contain many of the highly effective weapons systems we have already provided and new capabilities tailored to the wider assault we expect Russia to launch in eastern Ukraine,” President Joe Biden said in a statement, following a phone call with Zelensky. “The steady supply of weapons the United States and its Allies and partners have provided to Ukraine has been critical in sustaining its fight against the Russian invasion. It has helped ensure that Putin failed in his initial war aims to conquer and control Ukraine. We cannot rest now.”
The Pentagon has launched around-the-clock supply missions, delivering eight to 10 planeloads of anti-aircraft and anti-armor missiles, remote-controlled drones, rounds of ammunition and laser-guided rockets each day. On Wednesday, the Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks and top U.S. defense officials met with the chief executives of the eight largest U.S. defense contractors to discuss industry’s capacity to meet Ukraine’s needs if the war with Russia drags on for several years. “We have been giving an awful lot of stuff to the Ukrainians, and so it would be the prudent thing to do before it becomes a crisis issue for our own readiness to have a discussion with them about accelerated production and advanced production,” said a senior defense official, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
The Pentagon is determined to rapidly deliver American hardware at a time when Russia is relocating troops and heavy weapons into southern and eastern areas of Ukraine for a concerted push on the regions nearest Russian borders. After Russia’s forces were unable to topple the government in Kyiv, Moscow has shifted its war aims in recent days to less ambitious objectives. “There has been a sense of urgency,” the official said. “We have been pushing things to (the Ukrainians) at unprecedented speeds. From the time it gets into the region, it can be in the Ukrainian hands in as little as 48 hours, sometimes faster.”
The Biden Administration has repeatedly insisted U.S. troops will not fight in Ukraine, but the president has redoubled defenses in surrounding countries by moving roughly 14,000 troops eastward in Europe, principally in Poland. Ukraine is not a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member, but it borders four nations that are: Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. The U.S. and other NATO allies have pledged to protect their eastern and central European members under the alliance’s defining Article 5 mutual defense commitments. In the meantime, those forward deployed troops may be available for the training of Ukrainian forces on new weapons systems, according to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.
“We’re still working through what those options are going to look like, what that training is going to look like: How many US troops are going to be involved in it? Where’s it going to be? How long? It’s going to depend. We’re still working our way through that,” he said. “But we believe that we can put together appropriate training for some of these systems very, very quickly. These are not highly complex systems.”
Since the beginning of the conflict, the Biden Administration has worked to avoid escalating tensions with Russia, which maintains a nuclear arsenal in size and scope comparable only to the U.S. stockpile. Kirby acknowledged this aid package could be seen as escalatory, but that the administration worked to mitigate the concerns. “Every decision we’re making is we balance the needs of Ukraine to defend itself with our responsibilities, our absolute responsibilities, to think about escalation management,” Kirby said. “And if we weren’t, you should challenge us on that. But these decisions are all done prudently.”
As the Russian military has suffered unexpected setbacks in its war on Ukraine, the invading forces have increasingly hit civilian sites with airstrikes. Hospitals, schools and apartment buildings have been destroyed by a daily bombardment around the country. The Pentagon says that the Russians have launched more than 1,550 missiles, many of which have appeared to miss their intended targets. Ukrainian fighters have accused Russian forces of using chemical weapons, but those claims remain unconfirmed.
The Russians, meanwhile, have been accused of numerous war crimes including attacks on medical facilities, rape, executions, looting, and forced deportation of civilians to Russia. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe released a 100-page report on Wednesday, which said independent experts have found evidence that the Russian military has committed human rights abuses and broken international humanitarian law.
In recent days, U.S. and European officials have warned that Moscow was preparing a new military offensive in Ukraine’s eastern region. During its last invasion of Ukraine in 2014, the Russian military maintained a continued presence in two separatist regions of eastern Ukraine, known as the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. Since then, Donetsk and Luhansk have been home to puppet governments installed, armed, funded and operated by the Russian security services. It looks to expand into surrounding territory in the weeks and months ahead.
The Russian military forces are expected to be replenished and restocked after their retreat from northern Ukraine. Knowing this, Ukraine requested specific weapons to prepare for the renewed assault. “These kinds of capabilities are based on what they believe they’re facing,” Kirby said. “They will be facing Russian forces that are familiar with the territory, and that part of Ukraine, that they’ve been fighting over for eight years.”