It comes as US officials warn of a potentially bloody new phase in the ongoing war, focused on the eastern regions of Ukraine as Russia withdraws its troops from the area around the capital Kyiv.
“The Ukrainian military has used the weapons we are providing to devastating effect. As Russia prepares to intensify its attack in the Donbas region, the United States will continue to provide Ukraine with the capabilities to defend itself,” Biden said in a statement.
Biden detailed the new announcement in a midday telephone call with Zelensky that lasted for about an hour.
“Continued constant dialogue with @POTUS. Assessed Russian war crimes. Discussed additional package of defensive and possible macro-financial aid. Agreed to enhance sanctions,” Zelensky wrote on Twitter.
The US is providing Ukraine with 11 Mi-17 helicopters, 300 Switchblade drones, 18 Howitzers and protective equipment to guard against chemical attacks in the latest batch 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 body armor and helmets.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the $800 million package was intended to “meet urgent Ukrainian needs for today’s fight” as Russian forces shift the focus of their attack to eastern and southern Ukraine. He said the weapons would begin being sent to Ukraine “as soon as possible,” noting that previous security assistance had been sent in as little as four-to-five days after 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 they were ultimately included. Ukraine had initially asked the White House at the last minute not to send the helicopters, indicating they wanted more time to assess whether they’d be useful. But during Wednesday’s phone call, Zelensky told Biden his country needed them, so they were put back in the package, a source familiar with the matter said.
The Mi-17 helicopters that were added to the package had been earmarked for Afghanistan, Kirby said.
The $800 million shipment brings the total amount of military assistance the US has provided to Ukraine to more than $3 billion. Ukraine’s 2020 defense budget was only about $6 billion, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. In less than two months, the US has provided nearly half of that in security assistance, underscoring the pace at which the White House has worked to send in weaponry and equipment.
Delivery of earlier packages was still being completed as the new one was announced. The US expects a remaining number of the first 100 Switchblade drone systems to get into Ukraine “over the course of the next day,” according to a senior US defense official.
The official also said that another shipment of Javelin anti-tank missiles from the US is expected to get to Ukraine in the next 24 hours. The US also has helped coordinate two airlift deliveries from two other nations into Ukraine, the official said during an…