US President Joe Biden on Wednesday called Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and vowed to provide an additional $1 billion in security assistance for the country as it seeks to stave off Russian forces in eastern battle zones.
The new aid package includes “additional artillery and coastal defence weapons as well as ammunition for the artillery and advanced rocket systems that the Ukrainians need to support their defensive operations in the Donbas”, Mr Biden said in a statement.
The weapons package includes for the first time launchers for vehicle-mounted Harpoon anti-ship missiles, people familiar with the matter said.
The US package also includes $320 million for secure radios and related equipment, $55m for thermal night-vision optics, and $16m for training, a person familiar with the decision said.
The funding comes from two separate US programmes or lines of authority. About $350m of the $1bn in weapons will come from existing stocks, including more 155mm howitzers and ammunition, more Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems and four M1089A1 recovery vehicles, a person familiar with the package said.
The announcement comes as Ukrainian officials plead for more advanced weapons to be delivered faster to fend off Russian advances in the east. Mr Zelenskyy said the war may stagnate if deliveries from Ukraine’s allies do not accelerate.
Nato ministers are meeting in Brussels, Belgium, with the almost four-month-old war at the top of their agenda.
US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin opened a meeting of the Ukraine Defence Contact Group on Wednesday pledging to maintain military support for Kyiv as it faces a “pivotal moment” on the battlefield.
“We can’t underestimate the challenge that Ukraine faces,” Mr Austin said at Nato headquarters Brussels. “Russia is using its long-range fires to try to overwhelm Ukrainian positions.”
Adam Smith, the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, praised the US effort to arm Ukraine before Mr Biden's announcement but also said the quantities of weapons and ammunition need to be increased.
“I also think we need to be giving more sophisticated systems, particularly when it comes to drones and long-range artillery,” Mr Smith said on Wednesday and added that he thinks the US has been “too cautious” so far.
The US has steadily ratcheted up support for Ukraine while batting away questions about how long the flow of aid will last and whether it would support any deal that included Ukraine ceding territory to Russia.