The Biden administration said Monday it was sending its largest-ever direct arms shipment to Ukraine as that country prepares for a potentially decisive counteroffensive south against Russia, sending $1 billion in missiles, ammunition and other materials to Ukraine from the warehouses of the Ministry of Defense.
The new US arms shipment will further strengthen Ukraine as it begins a counteroffensive that analysts say for the first time could allow Kyiv to shape the course of the rest of the war, now half a year old.
Kyiv aims to push Russian troops out of Kherson and other southern territory near the Dnieper River. Russia in recent days was movement of troops and equipment towards the southern port cities to prevent the Ukrainian counter-offensive.
“At every stage of this conflict, we’ve been focused on getting the Ukrainians what they need based on the changing conditions on the battlefield,” Colin Kahl, the undersecretary of defense for policy, said Monday at the announcement of the new arms shipment.
The new US aid includes additional missiles for High Mobility Artillery Missile Systems or HIMARS, as well as thousands of artillery shells, mortar systems, spears and other ammunition and equipment. Military commanders and other U.S. officials say HIMARS and artillery systems have been critical in Ukraine’s battle to prevent Russia from taking more land.
Although the U.S. has already provided 16 HIMARS to Ukraine, Kahl said the new package does not include additional ones.
“These are not systems that we think you need in the hundreds to have the kind of effects you need,” Kahl said. “These are precision-guided systems for very specific types of targets, and the Ukrainians use them as such.”
He declined to say how many of the HIMARS precision-guided missile systems were included in Monday’s announcement, but said the U.S. had provided “several hundred” of them in recent weeks.
The latest announcement brings total U.S. security assistance committed to Ukraine by the Biden administration to more than $9 billion.
The largest single security aid package to date was announced at $1 billion on June 15. But that aid included $350 million in presidential withdrawal authorization and another $650 million under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which provides funding for training, equipment and other security needs that can be purchased from other countries or companies.
Monday’s package allows the U.S. to deliver weapons systems and other equipment more quickly because it takes them off Defense Department shelves.
In addition to missiles for HIMARS, it includes 75,000 shells of 155 mm artillery, 20 mortar systems and 20,000 shells for them, 1,000 shoulder-fired Javelin missiles and other weapons, explosives and medical equipment.
In the last four months of the war, Russia has focused on capturing the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Moscow separatists have controlled parts of the territory as self-proclaimed republics for eight years. Russian forces have made gradual advances in the region while launching rocket and missile attacks to restrict the movement of Ukrainian fighters elsewhere.
Kahl estimated that Russian forces suffered up to 80,000 killed and wounded in the fighting, although he did not break down the figure with a casualty estimate.
He said Russian troops had been able to “gradually” gain ground in eastern Ukraine, though not in recent weeks. “But it has cost the Russian military tremendously because of how well the Ukrainian military has performed and all the help the Ukrainian military has received. And I think now the conditions in the east have essentially stabilized and the focus is really shifting south.
The new funding is being paid through $40 billion in economic and security assistance to Ukraine, approved by Congress in May.
This is the 18th time the Pentagon has provided equipment from the stockpile of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine since August 2021.
The U.S. and allies are still weighing whether to supply planes to Ukraine, Kahl said. “It’s not out of the question that Western aircraft down the road will be part of the mix,” he said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky early in the war made almost daily calls for warplanes, calling them essential to protecting Ukraine’s skies. The US and some other NATO countries feared that this could draw them into more direct involvement in Ukraine’s war against Russia and did not provide Western aircraft.
Separately on Monday, the Treasury Department said it was sending another $3 billion in direct economic aid to Ukraine. It is part of $7.5 billion in economic aid previously approved, with $1.5 billion not yet disbursed.
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Fatima Hussain in Washington contributed to this report.