US announces biggest arms deal for Ukraine

Biden announced nearly $3 billion in military aid for Ukraine -- the biggest US package so far

President Joe Biden announced nearly $3 billion in military aid to Kyiv on August 24, 2022. AFP
President Joe Biden announced nearly $3 billion in military aid to Kyiv on August 24, 2022. AFP

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden announced nearly $3 billion in military aid to Kyiv on Wednesday -- the biggest US package so far -- to mark Ukraine´s independence day, six months after Russia invaded the country.

The package aims to fortify Ukraine´s military over the coming two years by committing the production and delivery of more advanced surface-to-air missiles, artillery ammunition, laser-guided rockets and advanced drones.

In a statement, Biden signaled the firmness of Washington´s commitment to Ukraine´s struggle, saying the funds aimed "to ensure it can continue to defend itself over the long term."

Congratulating Ukraine on its independence, which was declared from the Soviet Union in 1991, Biden said the United States "is committed to supporting the people of Ukraine as they continue the fight to defend their sovereignty."

"Today is not only a celebration of the past, but a resounding affirmation that Ukraine proudly remains -- and will remain -- a sovereign and independent nation."

The White House said Biden planned to call Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday to congratulate him and update him on US security assistance.

The Pentagon said the billions of dollars for arms constituted a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin that US and allied support for Ukraine would not disappear.

"The United States has now committed more than $13.5 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration," said Defense Under Secretary Colin Kahl.

"At least as we can discern, Vladimir Putin has not given up on his overall strategic objectives of seizing most of Ukraine... His theory of victory is that he can wait everybody out," Kahl told reporters.

"So packages like this are extraordinarily important, in directly challenging Putin´s theory of the case, which is that we´re not in it for the long haul, that we aren´t supporting Ukraine for the long haul," he said.

- Himars still crucial -

The $3 billion will cover six National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS) and their munitions, 310,000 artillery rounds, up to 24 counter-artillery radars, Puma surveillance drones and a new system dubbed Vampire that uses small missiles to shoot down enemy drones.

It was unveiled just five days after the Pentagon announced a $775 million package of arms, including precision guided missile systems, to be delivered in the coming weeks.

The new support comes as both sides remain locked in a heavily artillery-driven fight along a long front line in eastern and southern Ukraine, with neither military force making significant gains in recent weeks.

But the US supply of 16 Himars precision-guided missile systems since June have given Ukrainian forces the ability to target dozens of command posts and ammunition depots far behind the Russian lines, stifling the Russian Military´s earlier momentum.

The Himars systems are "the most relevant munitions for the current fight," Kahl told reporters.

- Six months of war -

Biden hailed Ukraine´s resistance against the invasion, which Putin launched on February 24 after years of unsuccessfully trying to reassert Russian control over the westward-looking country that has pushed strongly for membership in NATO and the European Union.

Thousands of soldiers on both sides and thousands of civilians have died in the largest-scale battles seen in Europe since World War II.

Despite Russian expectations of a quick victory, Ukrainian armed forces have pushed the invaders back to a swath of territory in the country´s east and south.

"Six months of relentless attacks have only strengthened Ukrainians´ pride in themselves, in their country, and in their thirty-one years of independence," Biden said.

"Today and every day, we stand with the Ukrainian people."