White House freezes Ukrainian military package that includes lethal weapons
But National Security Council officials ended up withholding the proposal after Russia announced it would withdraw troops stationed near Ukraine and in the run-up to President Joe Biden’s high-stakes summit with Russian president. Vladimir Poutine.
One of the sources said the package is still intact and could be sent to Ukraine quickly. The Washington Post first reported that the administration considered and has now frozen the package. The fact that National Security Council officials froze aid and the specific weapons discussed for inclusion in the aid package have not been previously reported.
The main items under consideration for the package include short-range air defense systems, small arms and more anti-tank weapons, according to two people familiar with the discussions.
In a statement issued after the publication of this article, White House press secretary Jen Psaki disputed the claim that aid to Ukraine was lacking: “The idea that we have withheld the Security assistance to Ukraine is nonsense. up to the US-Russia summit, we provided a package of $ 150 million in security assistance, including deadly assistance. ”
The White House statement also acknowledged that additional security assistance had been prepared, but would be contingent on Russia crossing territorial red lines: “We have also prepared emergency funds in the event of a new incursion. Russian in Ukraine. As President Biden told President Putin directly, we will tirelessly support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. “
Since Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea, the United States has provided some $ 2.5 billion in military aid to Kiev, including unarmed drones, radios and Javelin anti-tank missiles.
The latest proposal came after Russia deployed more than 100,000 troops, along with rocket battalions and heavy armor units, near the Ukrainian border this spring, according to estimates. At the end of April, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that it would start withdrawing some of its troops.
Past talks about deadly military aid to Ukraine have been politically tense, due to concerns over provocation by Russia, problems with training Ukrainian forces themselves, and lingering unease over corruption. within the Ukrainian government and military.
But despite Russia’s announcement, a senior Ukrainian official said in May that around 100,000 Russian troops were still near its border and in Crimea, Al Jazeera reported. That same month, Biden officials told the New York Times the number was closer to 80,000.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced in May that Moscow was building 20 new military units to be based in western Russia near the Ukrainian border over the next year, although he was vague on the details.
Satellite images captured by Maxar in May and June this year show that hundreds of trucks and other heavy equipment remain in place at newly built makeshift bases in western Russia and at a major training center. in Crimea.
“The reason they left these units is because they said they intended to use them in Zapad 2021,” a large military exercise that Russia holds every several years with Belarus involving dozens thousands of soldiers, said Michael Kofman, director of Russian studies at the CNA. . Moscow had already transported heavy armor, rocket units and other equipment from their home bases in central Russia, “and they didn’t want to bring them back. That was their argument, and we’ll see, ”Kofman added. The last Zapad exercise took place in 2017, and the next one is scheduled for September.
The photos show well-stocked motor fleets near the town of Voronezh in western Russia and the Opuk training center in Crimea.
The rapid build-up alarmed the Biden administration and European allies, as the scale of the Russian maneuvers – heavy armor, reserve troops, a field hospital, and kitchens dispatched from bases hundreds of miles away – gave the impression of a force primed and ready for prolonged operations. operations. The accumulation was greater than that observed during the invasion of Ukraine in 2014.
Vehicles and equipment near the town of Voronezh belong in part to the 41st Combined Arms Army, a modernized unit that includes mobile infantry units, rocket brigades and heavy artillery units.
Kofman said the area around the border was staffed with units with “fairly high readiness levels and much more modernized equipment” than those stationed there in previous years.
US aid to Ukraine has come under scrutiny in the past. In 2019, Trump decided to block the delivery of deadly aid to Ukraine as part of an effort to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce an investigation related to Biden’s son. Zelensky made no such announcement and the heist sparked Trump’s first impeachment. At the time, Congressional Democrats were vehement about the importance of U.S. support for the war-weary country.
The Pentagon has approved two plans to aid Ukraine this year alone, totaling $ 275 million. The first, in March, added two more Mark VI armed patrol vessels to Ukraine’s fleet, as part of a larger $ 600 million deal for 16 of the boats signed in 2020.
The set included 32 Seahawk A2 gun systems and dozens of 30mm guns for shallow water boats, giving them offensive power.
In June, another congressionally mandated $ 150 million package was approved. It does not appear to include lethal aid, but will instead carry several radar systems designed to track incoming artillery shells and drones, which have played a significant role in the fighting in eastern Ukraine during in recent years.
Despite military aid and the presence of NATO troops in the country to train Ukrainian military units, Kiev probably has a long way to go before it can join the transatlantic alliance.
But the positive noises the alliance makes can sometimes lead to awkward moments.
At the NATO summit on Monday, Zelensky tweeted that NATO leaders had “confirmed” that his country would become a member, reading catchy language in the annual communiqué as confirmation of his country’s status.
Asked about the country’s admission status, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg put the brakes on at a press conference on Tuesday. “Ukraine is a candidate country,” Stoltenberg said. “We provide them with support, in particular to continue to modernize and refine their defense and security institutions, the civil-political control of their security services, and above all to fight against corruption. “
Biden also stuck to the traditional NATO line in his own post-summit press conference, saying the United States would “do everything possible to put Ukraine in a position to continue to resist aggression. Russian physics ”.