Biden reveals $ 800 million security package to Ukraine in conversation with Zelensky



CNN

President Joe Biden on Wednesday told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that the United States is sending his nation an additional $ 800 million in weapons, ammunition and other security assistance.

It comes as US officials warn of a potentially bloody new phase in the ongoing war, focusing on the eastern regions of Ukraine, while Russia withdraws its troops from the area around the capital Kiev.

“The Ukrainian military has used the weapons we supply with devastating effect. As Russia prepares to intensify its offensive in the Donbas region, the United States will continue to give Ukraine the capacity to defend itself, Biden said in a statement.

Biden detailed the new announcement in a phone call dinner with Zelensky that lasted about an hour.

“Continued constant dialogue with @POTUS. Assessed Russian war crimes. Discussed additional package of defensive and possible macro-financial assistance. Agreed to tighten the sanctions, “Zelensky wrote on Twitter.

The United States is supplying Ukraine with 11 Mi-17 helicopters, 300 Switchblade drones, 18 howitzers and protective equipment to protect against chemical attacks in the latest group of security assistance approved by the White House, the Pentagon announced. In addition, the new weapons package includes 200 M113 armored personnel carriers, 10 counter-artillery radars, 500 Javelin anti-tank missiles and 30,000 sets of armor and helmets.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said the $ 800 million package was intended to “meet the urgent Ukrainian needs of today’s fight”, while Russian forces shift the focus of their attacks to eastern and southern Ukraine. He said the weapons would begin to be shipped to Ukraine “as soon as possible”, noting that previous security assistance had been shipped for as little as four to five days after the security packages were approved.

As of Tuesday night, two sources said helicopters had been removed from the assistance list, though Biden said in his statement that they were ultimately included. Ukraine had initially asked the White House at the last minute not to send the helicopters, indicating that they wanted more time to assess whether they would be useful. But during Wednesday’s phone call, Zelensky told Biden that his country needed them so they were put back in the package, a source with knowledge of the case said.

The Mi-17 helicopters added to the package had been earmarked for Afghanistan, Kirby said.

The $ 800 million shipment brings the total amount of military aid that the United States has provided to Ukraine to more than $ 3 billion. Ukraine’s defense budget for 2020 was only about $ 6 billion, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. In less than two months, the United States has provided nearly half of that in security assistance, underscoring the pace at which the White House has been working to send in weapons and equipment.

Delivery of previous packages was still being finalized when the new one was announced. The United States expects a remaining number of the first 100 Switchblade drone systems to enter Ukraine “within the next day,” according to a senior U.S. defense attorney.

The official also said that another shipment of Javelin anti-tank missiles from the United States is expected to arrive in Ukraine within the next 24 hours. The United States has also helped coordinate two airlifts from two other nations to Ukraine, the official said during a briefing outside the camera on Wednesday.

Switchblade drones are small, portable drones that carry warheads and detonate in the event of a collision. The smallest model can hit a target up to six miles away, according to the company that produces the drones.

“The constant supply of weapons that the United States and its allies and partners have supplied to Ukraine has been crucial in maintaining its fight against the Russian invasion. It has helped ensure that Putin failed in his first war goals of conquest. “We can not rest now. As I assured President Zelenskyy, the American people will continue to stand with the brave Ukrainian people in their struggle for freedom,” Biden said in a statement.

The Pentagon was still working on how US forces would train Ukrainians in some of the new systems they send in the security aid package.

“We’re still working through what those opportunities are going to look like, what that training is going to look like, how many U.S. troops will be involved in it, where will it be, how long,” Kirby told a briefing with reporters .

He said the United States would be able to train the Ukrainians on the new systems “very, very quickly” and would probably do so by training a small number of Ukrainian troops who could then train others, including on the Switchblade drones, some of which were sent in a previous assistance package.

The new tranche of money for Ukraine comes as the Pentagon on Wednesday hosted executives of the military’s eight major general contractors to find out how to arm Ukraine faster, according to a reading from the secret meeting.

The round table discussion, chaired by Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, focused on the Pentagon’s goal of continuing to supply Ukraine with weapons while being able to maintain the readiness of US forces and support the defense of allies.

The Pentagon sought to better understand the challenges facing defense contractors in rapidly producing weapons and equipment that have proven crucial to the defense of Ukraine, according to the readout.

On Tuesday, a defense industry official had told CNN that the major arms manufacturers are facing serious supply chain problems and a shortage of affordable labor. Production capacity may face further challenges as Ukraine’s contracts compete with increased US defense spending on current production, the official said.

The classified roundtable discussion on Wednesday was to partially address these concerns in an ongoing series of discussions between the Pentagon and the major arms manufacturers, including Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and General Dynamics. But it was primarily focused on the goal of “accelerating the production” of weapons to Ukraine, including systems that can be shipped quickly and used efficiently with minimal training.

A senior defense official said Wednesday that the massive shipments of weapons to Ukraine have not affected the readiness of U.S. forces. The official called it “cautious” to have the discussions “before it becomes a crisis issue for our own preparedness.”

This story has been updated with further reporting on Wednesday.

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