The US will provide an additional $1bn in security assistance to Ukraine, including artillery and coastal defence weaponry, president Joe Biden said on Wednesday.
In a statement after a call with Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Biden also said the US would provide $225mn in additional humanitarian assistance, as the west steps up its efforts to help Kyiv resist the Russian assault, which is now in its fourth month.
“I reaffirmed my commitment that the United States will stand by Ukraine as it defends its democracy and support its sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of unprovoked Russian aggression,” Biden said.
The pledge comes as western defence ministers met in Brussels to discuss additional aid for Kyiv. Ukraine has asked repeatedly for more heavy weaponry to fend off Russian advances in the eastern Donbas region, with Ukraine’s deputy defence minister Anna Malyar saying this week that it had received only 10 per cent of what was needed.
Asked about her comments, US defence secretary Lloyd Austin said he reviewed Ukraine’s requests “line by line” with Ukraine’s defence minister on Wednesday, adding that the US is working hard to provide Ukraine with “what they need and what is relevant in this fight”. He said he empathised with Ukraine’s pleas for more weapons.
“When you’re in a fight, you can never get enough,” he said. “I certainly understand where the Ukrainians are coming from and we are going to fight hard to get them everything they need.”
The new weapons will come out of the $40bn in additional assistance that the US pledged last month, including about half for military assistance. Included are 18 howitzers, as well as ammunition and vehicles to tow them, additional ammunition for advanced rocket systems known as himars, and two Harpoon coastal defence systems.
Western officials cautioned that the battlefield use of western weapons was being slowed by the need to train Ukrainian troops in how to use the more high-tech equipment.
Ben Wallace, UK defence secretary, on Wednesday said that British delivery of long-range, multiple-launch rocket systems was “imminent” and that London was also looking to send land-launched anti-ship missiles such as Harpoons to help Ukrainian forces repel Russian warships in the Black Sea.
Speaking in Oslo, Wallace stressed that a bottleneck was Ukrainian fighters’ need for the “very key component of training” as they burnt through the Soviet weaponry they have been using and moved on to western-supplied Nato kit.
Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg echoed that caution, saying: “There will . . . be some time needed to just make the Ukrainians ready to use and operate these systems.”
General Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the US is training “a platoon at a time” on how to use the himars, which will be introduced into the battlefield in the coming weeks and can make a significant impact.
Together the US, the UK and Germany are providing 10 multiple-launch rocket systems and more than 100 rounds of ammunition within weeks, he said.
Milley acknowledged that the Ukrainians face a tough fight in the Donbas, where “the numbers clearly favour the Russians, in terms of artillery”. But he said the Ukrainians have better artillery techniques and that the introduction of additional precision fire could have a significant impact.
The US pledged two Harpoon coastal defence systems that will also take some time to be used because they require additional training and are being sourced from within the US defence industry.
There are also concerns among some western countries that their own stockpiles are running low. Wallace said there was “little left on our own shelves” of some weapons, adding that the UK had recently purchased 155mm howitzers from a third party, which it had refurbished and sent to Ukraine. “That will be the next step for many countries,” he added.
Austin has also said the US needed to be mindful not to run down its own stockpiles while supplying Ukraine with what weapons it can.
At the depot in the German city of Stuttgart where western allies co-ordinate arms supplies to Kyiv, UK and US field commanders said weapons were getting to the front lines in as little as 48 hours once they had been taken to the border and put into Ukrainian hands.
After Moscow launched its attack on Ukraine in February, the west at first supplied relatively simple weapons such as NLAW anti-tank and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. But since April, as Russia has sharpened its focus into an artillery-dominated war in the eastern Donbas region, Ukraine’s need for more sophisticated equipment has risen.
“We make it as easy for them to learn and understand the new equipment we’re giving them so that they can use it as effectively as possible,” Brigadier Chris King, who leads the UK contribution, told pool reporters.
One repeated request from Ukraine is for more drones, of which there are deep western stockpiles. The US has provided “kamikaze” Switchblade drones and is debating whether to supply high-end MQ1 Gray Eagles that can launch precision hellfire missiles and provide detailed surveillance data. Among the issues are fears of Russian escalation and worries about technology transfer as well as training.
“We can only get them what we have, but in the case of the drones that’s not the issue,” Adam Smith, chair of the House of Representatives’ armed services committee, said on Wednesday at a breakfast with reporters.
US Rear Admiral Richard Heinz, the senior officer in charge of weapons supplies, told pool reporters in Stuttgart that he was “confident that we’re responsive enough to turn quickly to Ukrainians’ priorities”.
Asked if he thought Ukraine would win the fight, he responded: “The real question is what is winning? . . . But do I think the Russia is going to take Ukraine? No.”