The Biden administration on Thursday announced a fresh $675 million military aid package for Ukraine and pledged to make available another $1 billion in American-made weapons, as officials sent the strongest signal yet that Washington is broadening its focus beyond just the current battle with Russia and aiming to bolster the Ukrainian army for the long term.
The latest package — first revealed by Secretary of State Antony Blinken after a surprise visit with Ukrainian government leaders in Kyiv — includes a host of weapons, ammunition and equipment that U.S. officials say will prove crucial as the Ukrainian military unleashes a major counteroffensive against Russian occupying forces in the country’s south and east.
The aid includes include ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS; four 105mm Howitzers and 36,000 105mm artillery rounds; high-speed anti-radiation missiles; more than 5,000 anti-armor systems; 50 armored medical treatment vehicles; and a host of other military arms and equipment. Along with other American gear such as the Javelin anti-tank missiles, which have proven highly effective in neutralizing Russia’s armored force advantage, the package announced Thursday will replenish the Ukrainian armed forces at a critical moment in the fight.
But U.S. officials made clear they’re looking far beyond Ukraine’s current counteroffensive and are aiming to reshape the balance of power in the region for years to come. The chief goal, they said, is to dissuade any future Russian aggression against Ukraine or any other nation in the theater, including NATO states bordering Russia that are seen as being at the greatest risk of attack.
“We won’t let up in our support for Ukraine’s self-defense. Not today, not tomorrow,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday during a press conference at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. That press conference came after the fifth meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, a multinational Western coalition that aims to coordinate and streamline military assistance to Kyiv.
“We’re working together to arm and to train Ukraine on the current fight, yet we’re also working together to help Ukraine develop capable, sustainable forces to defend itself and deter aggression over the long term,” Mr. Austin said. “Ukraine is fighting for its life.
Ukraine is fighting for its sovereign territory and its democracy and its freedom. But the stakes reach far beyond the front lines. They reach us all.”
In addition to the $675 million announced Thursday, the administration also is opening up another $1 billion in long-term military financing to Ukraine, which will give Kyiv access to American-made weapons and equipment. Another $1.2 billion in military financing will be made available to 18 of Ukraine’s neighbors, including NATO members at the greatest potential risk of attack from Russia, officials said.
Since Russia launched its invasion on Feb. 24, the U.S. has given more than $14 billion direct military assistance to Ukraine.
In Moscow, Russian officials blasted the latest round of aid and cast it as a plot to enrich Western defense companies.
“This is part of a global corruption scheme to allocate colossal funds from the budgets of Western so-called democracies and divide them among their companies,” Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters. “We have seen this many times in other countries and other regions of the world. Now this scheme is being implemented in Ukraine.”
U.S. aid, particularly the HIMARS and other artillery assets, have had a measurable impact on the unfolding battles in eastern and southern Ukraine, according to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark A. Milley.
“We are seeing real and measurable gains in the use of these systems,” he said at the Ramstein press conference alongside Mr. Austin, stressing that the Ukrainian military’s ability to operate these systems effectively is improving rapidly.
“It is having a direct impact on the Russian ability to project and sustain combat power,” Gen. Milley said.
Beyond the impact on current battles, it’s clear there has been a subtle shift in the administration’s approach over the past several months. Pushing back the Russian invasion remains the primary goal, but the U.S. and its allies also see an opportunity to help transform the Ukrainian military into a force powerful enough that the Kremlin may never again consider military action against its smaller neighbor.
A key example of the long-term plan in action is a Pentagon contract awarded to leading defense firm Raytheon late last month for $182 million worth of National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, or NASAMS, for the Ukrainian military. Those systems have a delivery date of August 2024, meaning the Defense Department has put pen to paper for a years-long, multi-pronged effort to greatly enhance Ukraine’s lethal and defensive capabilities.
Foreign policy analysts say such moves are crucial. Now is the time, they say, to double down on long-term support for Ukraine.
“The United States’ goal is a democratic, sovereign, independent, prosperous Ukraine with the means to defend itself and deter another attack by Russia. That means enabling Ukraine to defeat the current invasion in the immediate term and arm them sufficiently over the longer term to make another invasion impossible,” said William Taylor, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and now the vice president, Russia and Europe, at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Mr. Taylor said the U.S. should look to its military dealings with Israel as a blueprint for the long-term strategy in Ukraine. The military-to-military relationship can evolve, he said, into a more concrete partnership that stands the test of time.
“The U.S.-Israel military arrangement gives a model of how we can provide Ukraine the military equipment they need to defend themselves,” Mr. Taylor told The Washington Times. “Every 10 years, the U.S. and Israeli governments together agree on the weapons Israel will need over the medium term. … This enables Israel to make longer-term decisions on weapons systems designed to give them the capabilities they need. The United States has already given Ukraine more than $10 billion in military equipment in six months. So, we can do this — we are doing this.”
The arrangement, he added, “would allow Ukrainian military planners to work closely with their American counterparts to agree on what they need now and what they will need over time, updated regularly.”