LONDON — President Biden announced on Thursday an additional colossal military aid package worth $800 million to help Ukraine bolster its military forces’ response to Russia’s new offensive in the Donbas region, bringing the total amount the U.S. has spent to help Ukraine with military assistance to more than $3.4 billion since the invasion was launched on Feb. 24.
The latest assistance comes a week after the U.S. announced a first round of $800 million in weapons for Ukraine, which included helicopters and armored personnel carriers. “We’re in a critical window now,” Biden said at a recent press conference. “They’re going to set the stage for the next phase of this war. And the United States and our allies and partners are moving as fast as possible to continue to provide Ukraine … the weapons … their forces need to defend their nation.”
What is included in the latest package?
The Pentagon said this second $800 million military aid package will include gear pulled from existing U.S. military stock. The package includes:
72 155 mm howitzers
72 tactical vehicles to tow the howitzers
144,000 artillery rounds
Biden said this package had been tailored to help Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donbas region, where soldiers are fighting off the new Russian offensive. Taking control of Donbas would mean Russia would have a southern land corridor to the annexed Crimean Peninsula, which has been occupied by Kremlin forces since 2014.
Why has the U.S. sent these specific weapons?
Earlier in April, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky issued a plea for heavy machinery to fend off Russia. He said Ukraine needed artillery, multiple-launch rocket systems, armored vehicles and air defense systems, among others.
In response, the U.S. has sent howitzers and other weapons needed to aid Zelensky and his troops. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby reiterated this past week that sending the assistance has been in full “consultation” with Ukraine, and that the weapons sent by the U.S. “provide enough artillery now to equip five battalions for Ukraine for potential use in the Donbas.”
“I want to stress again that what we’re providing is done in full consultation with the Ukrainians and that they believe that these systems will be helpful to them in the fight,” Kirby said. “Where and when they employ them and how they employ them is, of course, up to them.”
It is believed the howitzers will play a significant role in Russia’s new battle for the Donbas region, which consists of flat, rolling plains. “We knew from talking to Ukrainians that artillery was going to be a critical need because of the way the terrain lays,” an official told Stars and Stripes, adding that the Pentagon had seen “early on” that the Russians were massing artillery for the battle in the Donbas.
When will the weapons arrive?
On Thursday, the Pentagon said the weapons were expected to leave the U.S. in the ensuing 24 to 48 hours, meaning that the first shipments should shortly be arriving in Europe. Defense officials added that the first pounds of the equipment “will be in the Ukrainian hands by the end of the weekend.”
What has the Pentagon said about the weapons being sent?
Kirby said Thursday that the Phoenix Ghost drones have been in development since before the invasion, adding, “We will continue to move that development in ways that are attuned to Ukrainian requirements for unmanned aerial systems of a tactical nature in eastern Ukraine.” He said the Phoenix Ghost has capabilities comparable but not exactly similar to the Switchblade drone that was sent in the first $800 million package.
Kirby said the training required for the drones and howitzers — which began this week — is minimal. Officials declined to say where the training was taking place, but said it was not in Ukraine. “This is training the trainers,” the official told the Washington Examiner. “It’s a smallish number of Ukrainians, a little bit more than 50.” The trainees will then return home to train other soldiers.
What has the U.S. previously sent?
In its first round of additional assistance for Ukraine, the U.S. sent: Mi-17 helicopters, 18 155 mm howitzers, AN/TPQ-36 counter-artillery radars, 300 Switchblade drones, 100 armored Humvees, 500 Javelin anti-tank missiles and thousands of other anti-armor systems, as well as equipment to protect from chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear contaminants and C-4 explosives and demolition equipment for obstacle clearing, among other things.