US commits $325M in new Ukraine military aid during Zelenskyy visit to Pentagon
Stars and Stripes September 21, 2023
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon will send new military aid to Ukraine worth as much as $325 million — equipment that will mostly strengthen the country’s air defenses against Russia, defense officials said Thursday.
The new round of military equipment and weapons includes AIM-9M Sidewinder missiles, more Avenger air-defense systems and more ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS. The tranche of aid also includes 155mm and 105mm artillery rounds, Javelin and AT-4 anti-armor systems and .50-caliber machine guns to use against Russian drones.
The weapons, which are provided through the presidential drawdown authority, will be sent to Ukraine from Pentagon stocks. The presidential drawdown authority allows the Pentagon to send equipment to Ukraine on an emergency basis, so it arrives more quickly.
“This package includes additional capabilities to strengthen Ukraine’s air defenses as it faces brutal aerial assaults from Russia,” the Pentagon said.
The new U.S. aid came on the day Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited the Pentagon to meet with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Army Gen. Mark Milley, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the top Pentagon spokesman, said Austin provided an update during the meeting on “U.S. security assistance to meet Ukraine’s most urgent battlefield needs.”
“It was really an opportunity for [Austin] to provide President Zelenskyy with an update on the security assistance that we’re providing. He reaffirmed that we will continue to work very hard with Ukraine … to ensure they have what they need,” Ryder said. “There was also an opportunity to discuss Ukraine’s longer-term capability requirements and how to support them in the future.”
Austin and Milley welcomed Zelenskyy to the Pentagon on Thursday, and they attended a belated 9/11 ceremony honoring the people who died at the building on Sept. 11, 2001. The national anthems of the United States and Ukraine were played during the wreath-laying ceremony at the 9/11 memorial on the southwest corner of the building. Afterward, Zelenskyy briefly met with a few dozen Pentagon personnel before he left the premises to travel to the U.S. Capitol across the Potomac River.
“In a meeting with Austin, I thanked the U.S. for its crucial support,” Zelensky said in a social media post. “We discussed deliveries of artillery systems and long-range capabilities, as well as strengthening air defense.”
One weapon not included in the new military aid is the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS — a long-range ballistic missile system that Ukraine has been requesting. The system can fire ground-to-surface missiles at targets almost 200 miles away. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Thursday, however, sending ATACMS is still possible in the future.
Ryder also said U.S. training for Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets is expected to begin soon. The first stop for several pilots will be Lackland Air Force Base in Texas for English language training, and then they will go to Morris Air National Guard Base in Arizona for the actual flight training.
The Pentagon spokesman said a government shutdown, which could happen if Congress doesn’t authorize funding for fiscal 2024 by Sept. 30, would not affect that F-16 training.
“The training would happen, but depending on whether there were certain personnel who were not able to report for duty, for example, that could have an impact,” he said.
Austin has the authority to exempt certain activities from a shutdown, including all aspects of the Ukrainian training operations, but Ryder said he didn’t want to predict whether that might happen.
After leaving the Pentagon, Zelenskyy spent time Thursday afternoon meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to thank them for previous contributions and encourage them to keep up support for Ukraine, officials said. Assistance for Ukraine is one issue troubling House Republicans in the negotiations on Capitol Hill to avert a shutdown and pass a budget. As total U.S. aid to Ukraine is approaching $50 billion, some recent polling has indicated American support for ongoing aid to Ukraine might be eroding. Ryder said, however, there remains strong bipartisan support in Congress and cooperation among U.S. allies.
“When it comes to the public, I think it’s important to re-emphasize why Ukraine matters,” he said. “If Russia were to succeed in eliminating Ukraine as a nation, they won’t stop there.”
“If they can get away with … invading other nations, their neighbors … they will,” Ryder said. “I have no doubt that countries like China are watching and seeing how the U.S. and the international community have rallied and responded in support of and aiding Ukraine. So, there is definitely a deterrent effect there.”
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the United States has committed $44 billion in military aid to Kyiv.
“We have accomplished much together to safeguard democracy, freedom, and dignity -- values shared by both of our nations,” Zelenskyy said Thursday during his visit. “We have liberated more than half of the occupied territory from Russian invaders, and we can clearly see that victory is getting closer.”
The new $325 million military aid for Ukraine includes:
• AIM-9M missiles for air defense.
• Additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems.
• Avenger air-defense systems.
• .50-caliber machine guns to counter drones.
• 155mm artillery rounds.
• 105mm artillery rounds.
• Tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided missiles.
• Javelin and AT-4 anti-armor systems.
• More than three million rounds of small arms ammunition.
• 59 light tactical vehicles.
• Demolition munitions for obstacle clearing.
• Spare parts, maintenance, and other field equipment.