Officials in the Biden administration are seeking to arm Ukraine with more advanced and deadly weapons, stepping in to change a policy in the White House that has been criticized for being too slow and cautious in its decision-making.
President Biden’s announcement this week of an additional $ 800 million in military assistance included, for the first time, advanced ammunition requested by Ukraine.
Although the package still did not live up to the specific requests of Ukraine, it also represented a real shift.
Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the latest package of military assistance is a “significant change” and is a sign that the administration and US allies have “consistently turned up the heat” on Russia.
“Are there still red lines? Yes,” he added, but said the United States has gone all the way up to these lines without crossing them.
The announcement of the new package followed public pressure from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Zelensky spoke with Biden on Wednesday for nearly an hour prior to the announcement of the weapons package. He has previously posted on Twitter requirements for specific military hardware, including fighter jets, tanks and several rocket launch systems.
The campaign, which Zelensky labeled “#ArmUkraine”, was an attempt to get the United States and Western allies to speed up supplies and meet specific requirements for critical weapons systems, as Russian forces withdraw, regroup and provide themselves with a brief respite.
“The weapons coming to Ukraine are very slow, we desperately need them. That is why the President [Zelensky] published this campaign, Oleksiy Goncharenko, a Ukrainian MP, told The Hill.
External analysts and people familiar with the administration’s reasoning say a combination of caution and logistics concerns has deterred the United States from fulfilling Zelensky’s wish list.
The package does not include, for example, warplanes, which Zelensky described in his video appeal as a “must have” to “save millions of Ukrainians as well as millions of Europeans.”
It will also take about four weeks for the United States to deliver all the military assistance included in the $ 800 million package, a senior defense official told reporters Thursday.
John Herbst, a former ambassador to Ukraine and senior fellow of the Atlantic Council, welcomed Biden’s military package, but said Ukrainians needed air power, and especially Soviet-era MiG fighters and Sukhoi bombers.
“They still say no to the MiGs and Sukhoi bombers, these MiGs and Sukhoi bombers would be very practical in handling Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers on open ground,” Herbst said.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday that the administration still has “concerns” about the delivery of MiGs from Poland to Ukraine, citing previous Pentagon assessments that such a move could lead Putin to escalate a conflict with NATO.
“That assessment has not changed,” Psaki said.
An external analyst with insight into the administration’s mindset credited Foreign Minister Antony Blinken for being forward-looking in sending more advanced weapons to Ukraine.
The analyst, who requested anonymity to speak honestly, pointed to Blinken’s support for the MiG transfer. Blinken said on March 6 that the United States had given the “green light” to Poland. The promise was reversed by the White House the next day.
“The policy is governed by the National Security Council, and we know that Blinken’s instincts are very different, and we saw that on the MiG issue,” the analyst said.
U.S. officials publicly suggested that changes in the war change the type of U.S. support.
“The nature of the conflict is changing … and therefore it is natural that the exact forms of support will adapt to the changing reality,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a briefing Wednesday.
Russia is believed to be regrouping its forces into a more concentrated offensive against the eastern and southern regions of the country.
Price said in the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday that the $ 800 million arms transfer to Ukraine came after a direct appeal from Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba to Blinken, who asked for “weapons, arms and weapons.”
“He met with Secretary Blinken, and Secretary Blinken had three answers for him: yes, yes and yes. And today you saw the fruits of some of these discussions, “Price said.
William Taylor, director of Russia’s and Europe’s program at the US Institute of Peace, said the growing evidence of atrocities against civilians and Biden’s accusation that Russia was committing genocide had moved the administration to be more aggressive in its assistance.
“I do not sense that hesitation anymore,” Taylor said.
“I’m talking to people in the Pentagon who are fully committed to helping,” escalates the transfer of weapons, including from the United States, but also from NATO allies such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which have provided Ukraine with T. -72 tanks, respectively. and the S300 missile defense system requested by Zelensky.
“The bureaucracy is working, I think, really fully, and there are things that need to be in Ukrainian hands, like tomorrow, to disrupt and defend against this great offensive that the Russians are apparently planning, and they could start any day, ” he said.
The effort is also supported by key allies such as Britain, which has been particularly hawkish.
“There is a window of opportunity,” said James Cleverly, the British Foreign Secretary for Europe and North America, about the need to increase the supply of military assistance to Ukraine.
“We are providing the Ukrainians with the systems they need to properly defend their homeland, and we are seeking to do so while the Russians are somehow doing this repositioning,” he said during an interview in Washington this week.
Morgan Chalfant contributed to this story.