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President Joe Biden speaks about additional security assistance that his administration will provide to Ukraine in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus in Washington, Wednesday, March 16, 2022.

President Joe Biden speaks about additional security assistance that his administration will provide to Ukraine in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus in Washington, Wednesday, March 16, 2022. (Patrick Semansky/AP Photo)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Wednesday approved a new $800 million security assistance package for Ukraine, bringing U.S. military aid to the war-torn country to $1 billion since last week.

"The world is united in our support for Ukraine and our determination to make Putin pay a very heavy price. America's leading this effort, together with our allies and partners, providing an enormous level of security and humanitarian assistance that we're adding to today,” Biden said in a public address from the White House.

The $800 million is the highest amount given in a single security assistance package to Ukraine and will include weapons to help defend Ukrainian airspace from Russian attacks, the president said.

“This new package on its own is going to provide unprecedented assistance to Ukraine,” Biden said. “It includes 800 [Stinger]anti-aircraft systems to make sure the Ukrainian military can continue to stop the planes and helicopters that have been attacking their people and to defend the Ukrainian airspace."

The White House said the assistance package also includes 2,000 Javelin anti-tank systems, 1,000 light anti-armor weapons and 6,000 AT-4 anti-armor systems.

Biden said sending 9,000 “portable, high-accuracy, shoulder-mounted” anti-armor systems will help because Ukrainians “have already been using [such systems] with great effect to destroy invading tanks and armored vehicles.”

The package will also include 100 tactical drones, which Biden said demonstrates the U.S. “commitment to sending our most cutting-edge systems to Ukraine for its defense.”

Additionally, the U.S. will provide 7,000 small arms, such as machine guns, shotguns, grenade launchers and about 20 million rounds of ammunition, and 25,000 sets of body armor and helmets, according to the White House.

The announcement came hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked Congress for such systems to strike down Russian air assaults.

Biden called Zelenskyy’s speech “convincing and significant,” and he said the U.S. has “identified and are helping Ukraine acquire additional longer-range and aircraft systems and the munitions for those systems.”

During his address to Congress, Zelenskyy pleaded for the U.S. to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine, but said the U.S. could instead send surface-to-air missile systems to help secure the skies against Russian assaults.

“If this is too much to ask, we offer an alternative: You know what kind of defense systems we need, S-300 and other similar [surface-to-air missile] systems,” he said. “You know how much depends on the battlefield on [Russia’s] ability to use aircraft."

The U.S. opposes a no-fly zone over Ukraine because it would put U.S. forces in direct contact with Russian forces. Biden has repeatedly pledged not to send American service members into the country to fight the Russians.

Zelenskyy also said Ukraine needs “powerful, strong, aviation to protect our people, our freedom.”

“Lend [us] aircraft that can help Ukraine, help Europe,” he said. “You know that they exist and you have them, but they are not in Ukraine in the Ukrainian sky.”

The comment came after the U.S. declined last week to accept Polish fighter jets to transfer to Ukraine.

The Pentagon on March 9 rejected a plan offered by Poland to donate its fleet of MiG-29 fighter jets to the U.S. to transfer to Ukraine, chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said at the time.

“The intelligence community has assessed the transfer of MiG-29s to Ukraine may be mistaken as escalatory and could result in significant Russian reaction that might increase the prospects of a military escalation with NATO,” he said.

Aside from the “high-risk,” the U.S. believes fighter jets are not among “the systems that [Ukrainian forces] need most to defeat Russian aggression,” Kirby said, noting the Ukrainian air force still had “several squadrons of fully mission-capable aircraft.”

As of Tuesday, Ukraine and Russia still had 90% of its combat power available, a senior defense official said.

“We assess that adding aircraft to the Ukrainian inventory is not likely to significantly change the effectiveness of Ukrainian air force relative to Russian capabilities,” Kirby said March 9. “Therefore, we believe that the gain from transferring those MiG-29s is low.”

With the new package, U.S. has now given about $2 billion in security assistance packages to Ukraine in the past year, and more than $6.4 billion since Russia first invaded Ukraine in 2014, according to the State Department.

The White House on Wednesday for the first time named some of the weapons that the U.S. has sent in previous Ukrainian security assistance packages. Until now, the administration had kept the details of its packages mostly secret.

Previous packages included 600 Stingers, 2,600 Javelins, five Mi-17 helicopters, three patrol boats, four counter-artillery and counter-drone tracking radars, four counter-mortar radar systems, 200 grenade launchers and ammunition, as well as 200 shotguns and machine guns, 40 million rounds of small arms ammunition and more than 1 million grenade, mortar and artillery rounds, according to the statement.

The U.S. also has sent military vehicles that include 70 high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles, secure communications and electronic warfare detection systems, tactical gear, military medical supplies, explosive ordnance disposal and de-mining equipment, and satellite imagery and analysis capabilities, the White House said.

Biden on Tuesday signed into law a funding bill that allotted $3.5 billion to the Pentagon to help resupply U.S. military stocks of equipment already given out in security assistance packages, Defense Department spokesman Christopher Sherwood said.

The funds signed into law Tuesday will now allow the Pentagon to move “expeditiously” to deliver Biden’s new security assistance package, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement Wednesday.

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Caitlin Doornbos covers the Pentagon for Stars and Stripes after covering the Navy’s 7th Fleet as Stripes’ Indo-Pacific correspondent at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Previously, she worked as a crime reporter in Lawrence, Kan., and Orlando, Fla., where she was part of the Orlando Sentinel team that placed as finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. Caitlin has a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Kansas and master’s degree in defense and strategic studies from the University of Texas at El Paso.
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