U.S. President Joe Biden called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and vowed to provide an additional $1 billion in security assistance for the country as it seeks to stave off Russian forces in eastern battle zones.
“I informed President Zelenskyy that the United States is providing another $1 billion in security assistance for Ukraine, including additional artillery and coastal defense weapons, as well as ammunition for the artillery and advanced rocket systems that the Ukrainians need to support their defensive operations in the Donbas,” Biden said in a statement Wednesday.
The weapons package includes for the first time launchers for vehicle-mounted Harpoon anti-ship missiles, according to people familiar with the matter. Denmark has said it will supply the missiles. The U.S. package also includes $320 million for secure radios and related equipment, $55 million for thermal night-vision optics, and $160 million for training, according to a person familiar with the decision.
The funding comes from two separate U.S. programs or lines of authority. About $350 million of the $1 billion in weapons will come from existing U.S. stocks, including more 155 mm Howitzers and ammunition, more Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems and four M1089A1 recovery vehicles, according to a person familiar with the package.
The announcement comes as Ukrainian officials have pleaded for more advanced weapons to be delivered faster to fend off gradual Russian advances in the east. Zelenskyy said the war may stagnate if deliveries from Ukraine’s allies don’t accelerate.
NATO ministers are meeting in Brussels with the almost 4-month-old war at the top of their agenda. U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin opened a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group on Wednesday pledging to maintain military support for Ukraine as the country faces a “pivotal moment” on the battlefield.
“We can’t underestimate the challenge that Ukraine faces,” Austin said at NATO headquarters in Brussels. “Russia is using its long-range fires to try to overwhelm Ukrainian positions.”
Rep. Adam Smith, the Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, praised the U.S. effort to arm Ukraine ahead of the Biden announcement but also said the quantities of weapons and ammunition need to be increased.
“I also think we need to be giving more sophisticated systems, particularly when it comes to drones and long-range artillery,” Smith said Wednesday at a breakfast meeting of the Defense Writers Group, adding that he thinks the U.S. has been “too cautious” so far.
The U.S. has steadily ratcheted up support for Ukraine while batting away questions about how long the flow of aid will last and whether it would support any deal that included Ukraine ceding territory to Russia.
Meanwhile, the fallout from the conflict is driving sharp increases in the price of gasoline and food, a bitter political headwind for Biden heading into midterm elections this fall.
“When we decided we were going to help Ukraine — the point that I was making was that it’s going to cost us too,” Biden said at a June 10 fundraiser.
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