U.S. President Joe Biden authorized a fresh round of $275 million in military aid for Ukraine, offering new capabilities to defeat drones and boost air defenses, according to a memo released Friday by the White House.
The package also includes rockets for High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers made by Lockheed Martin, 80,000 155mm artillery rounds, Humvee military vehicles and about 150 generators, according to the memo.
This is the 27th use of Presidential Drawdown Authority (PDA) for Ukraine, which allows the United States to transfer defense articles and services from stocks quickly without congressional approval in response to an emergency.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters at the White House Friday the equipment was “on its way.”
To counter Russia’s surge in missile attacks against Ukraine, the United States has sent sophisticated anti-aircraft NASAMS systems to Ukraine that have been running for a few weeks.
Washington previously announced it was sending four Avenger short-range air defense systems that use Stinger missiles, made by Raytheon Technologies Corp RTX.N, and HAWK interceptor missiles.
U.S. allies have also been sending air defense systems.
In total, the United States has committed $20 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration. Since 2014, the United States has committed approximately $22.1 billion in security assistance to Ukraine, and more than $19.3 billion since the beginning of Russia’s unprovoked and brutal invasion on February 24.
“To meet Ukraine’s evolving battlefield requirements, the United States will continue to work with its Allies and partners to provide Ukraine with key capabilities,” according to a Pentagon statement.
Meanwhile, Russia is expanding and modernizing its nuclear arsenal at a time when Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly suggested he could use nuclear weapons to protect Russia, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Friday.
“As the Kremlin continues its cruel and unprovoked war of choice against Ukraine, the whole world has seen Putin engage in deeply irresponsible nuclear saber-rattling,” Austin said. He made the comments at a ceremony for the incoming commander of U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees the United States’ nuclear arsenal.
According to a recent Pentagon policy document on nuclear arms, Russia has the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world, with close to 6,000 warheads, according to experts. Together, Russia and the United States hold about 90% of the world’s nuclear warheads — enough to destroy the planet many times over.
Putin said Friday that Russia’s near-total loss of trust in the West would make an eventual settlement over Ukraine much harder to reach, although contacts between Russian and U.S. intelligence services were at least continuing.
At a news conference in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, Putin lamented the failure to implement the Minsk agreements – cease-fire and constitutional reform deals between Kyiv and Russian-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and 2015 by Russia, France and Germany, at the outset of the war in Ukraine.
“We thought we would still be able to agree within the framework of the Minsk peace agreements. What can you say? There is a question of trust,” Putin said. “And trust, of course, is almost at zero.”
Since suffering a series of military setbacks, Putin has increasingly pitched his invasion on Ukraine as a fight to defend Russia against an aggressive “collective West.”
Russia is working on obtaining more weapons from Iran, including hundreds of ballistic missiles. It is also offering Tehran an unprecedented level of military and technical support in return, Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward said Friday.
Woodward also said that since August, Iran had transferred hundreds of drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), to Russia that had used them to “kill civilians and illegally target civilian infrastructure” in Ukraine.
“Russia is now attempting to obtain more weapons, including hundreds of ballistic missiles,” Woodward told reporters.
National Security Council spokesman Kirby said Washington was deeply concerned about the “deepening and burgeoning defense partnership” between Iran and Russia, and that the United States would be using its tools to disrupt that relationship.
He said the U.S. government also would be calling on partner countries to discuss and address the Russia-Iran partnership.
An escalation of war could engulf Europe and marshal NATO against Russia, warned NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg.
“If things go wrong, they can go horribly wrong,” Stoltenberg said in remarks to Norwegian broadcaster NRK.
“It is a terrible war in Ukraine. It is also a war that can become a full-fledged war that spreads into a major war between NATO and Russia,” he said. “We are working on that every day to avoid that.”
Speaking Friday via video link to defense and security chiefs of several ex-Soviet nations, Putin accused the West of using Ukraine as a tool against his country.
“For many years, the West shamelessly exploited and pumped out its resources, encouraged genocide and terror in the Donbas and effectively turned the country into a colony,” he said. “Now it’s cynically using the Ukrainian people as cannon fodder, as a ram against Russia by continuing to supply Ukraine with weapons and ammunition, sending mercenaries and pushing it to a suicidal track,” he said.
Ukrainians say they are fighting for freedom against an unwanted invader and aggressor.
Heavy fighting continued Friday in eastern and southern Ukraine, mostly in regions that Russia illegally annexed in September. Ukraine’s presidential office said five civilians have been killed and another 13 have been wounded by Russian shelling in the last 24 hours.
Russia has placed several Grad rocket launchers at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, according to Ukraine’s state-owned nuclear power utility.
Energoatom said the “most likely” scenario Russia is preparing for with the launchers at the power plant is “the shelling of the opposite bank of the Dnieper, in particular the Nikopol and Marhanets … using the ‘cover’ of power units and spent nuclear fuel storage.”
Energoatom said Russia has used Zaporizhzhia for “military purposes” since the “very beginning” of its invasion of Ukraine.
“And once again,” Energoatom said, “we call for the creation of a security zone inside and around the station for its complete demilitarization and de-occupation.”
VOA White House Bureau Chief Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report.