US commits $2 billion in drones, ammunition, aid to Ukraine
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon announced a new package of long-term security assistance for Ukraine on Friday, marking the first anniversary of Russia's invasion with a $2 billion commitment to send more rounds of ammunition and a variety of small, high-tech drones into the fight.
The announcement comes just days after President Joe Biden made an unannounced visit to Kyiv and pledged America's continuing commitment to Ukraine. Biden told President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his people that "Americans stand with you, and the world stands with you.”
In a statement Friday, the Pentagon said the aid includes weapons to counter Russia's unmanned systems and several types of drones, including the upgraded Switchblade 600 Kamikaze drone, as well as electronic warfare detection equipment.
It also includes money for additional ammunition for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, artillery rounds and munitions for laser-guided rocket systems. But, in an unusual move, the Pentagon provided no details on how many rounds of any kind will be bought. Including this latest package, the U.S. has now committed more than $32 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since Russia's invasion.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement that the first anniversary of Russia's invasion is a chance for all who believe in freedom “to recommit ourselves to supporting Ukraine’s brave defenders for the long haul — and to recall that the stakes of Russia’s war stretch far beyond Ukraine.”
Biden was scheduled to meet virtually Friday with other Group of Seven leaders and Zelenskyy “to continue coordinating our efforts to support Ukraine and hold Russia accountable for its war,” the White House said.
Those efforts include what the White House called “sweeping” sanctions on over 200 people and entities “to further degrade Russia’s economy and diminish its ability to wage war against Ukraine.” The Biden administration will also further restrict exports to Russia and raise tariffs on some Russian products imported to the U.S.
The White House statement released Friday also said, “G7 countries will continue to keep Russia’s sovereign assets immobilized until there is a resolution to the conflict that addresses Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and integrity.”
Just days after Austin traveled to Kyiv in April 2022 to meet with Zelenskyy, he launched a now-monthly meeting of ministers of defense and defense chiefs to make sure momentum on assisting Ukraine does not fade. The most recent meeting was last week in Brussels, and over the past year the sessions have resulted in regular announcements by international partners of increasingly lethal weapons systems to help Ukraine defend itself.
That effort also spawned a spin-off group of the chief weapons buyers for each partner nation. They now meet regularly to address the pressure that support for Ukraine has put on international weapons stockpiles, to make sure equipment continues to flow and manufacturing meets the demands.
Allies and partners, said Austin, have committed more than $20 billion in security assistance to Ukraine, including tanks, armored vehicles, air-defense systems, artillery systems and weapons.
“Difficult times may lie ahead, but let us remain clear-eyed about what is at stake in Ukraine,” Austin said, “to ensure that a world of rules and rights is not replaced by one of tyranny and turmoil."
The latest aid package uses the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative to provide funding for longer-term contracts to buy weapons and equipment. Unlike the presidential drawdown authority that the Pentagon has used repeatedly over the past year to pull weapons from its own stocks and quickly ship them to Ukraine, the USAI-funded equipment could take a year or two to get to the battlefront. As a result, it will do little to help Ukraine prepare for an expected new offensive in the spring.
According to the Pentagon, the money will also buy mine clearing and communications equipment and fund training, maintenance and sustainment for Ukraine’s forces.
On CNN Thursday night, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan confirmed that Biden and Zelenskyy discussed Ukraine’s request for F-16 fighter jets during the U.S. president’s visit week to Kyiv.
“They’re about to mount a significant counter offense,” Sullivan noted, referring to expectations that Ukraine will mount a spring offensive. “From our perspective, F-16s are not the key capability for that offensive.” He suggested, however, that the F-16 request could be revisited for long-term defense.