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Zelenskyy stresses urgency of more US weapons in White House visit

U.S. military and humanitarian aid are crucial to Ukraine's military efforts, but they can take a while to get there

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy meets with President Joe Biden in the Oval Office on Wednesday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy meets with President Joe Biden in the Oval Office on Wednesday. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Ukraine’s president came to Washington on Wednesday to express thanks for the tens of billions of dollars in aid that Washington has sent his war-battered country and to make an impassioned plea for more. 

As Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrived in America — his first trip outside Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in February — Congress was poised to approve $44.9 billion in additional money for various forms of aid, and President Joe Biden’s administration announced its latest package of arms for Ukraine, worth $1.85 billion. 

“Every dollar of this investment from the United States is going to be strengthening global security,” Zelenskyy told a White House press conference as he stood alongside Biden and ahead of the Ukrainian president’s address to a joint meeting of Congress. “We need to survive this winter. We need to protect our people.”

But the sizable new tranche of U.S. aid is not exactly in crates and ready to ship. Much of it will take time to arrive. And despite the enormous sums of money already committed to Ukraine and the display of unity between Biden and Zelenskyy at the press conference, the Ukrainian president reportedly has asked Biden, and not for the first time, for longer-range and more sophisticated weapons than the administration has been willing to provide, such as Army Tactical Missile Systems, with a range of almost 200 miles, or Gray Eagle and Reaper drones. 

When a Ukrainian reporter asked about those systems, including ATACMS, at the press conference, Zelenskyy just said, “I agree.”  Biden, for his part, suggested that providing longer-range systems could risk war between Russia and the west and even splinter NATO and the European Union.

“They’re not looking for a third world war,” Biden said of U.S. partners and allies.

Patriots and smart bomb kits

The United States has appropriated more than $110 billion for Ukraine since Russia’s invasion 300 days ago, and about $50 billion of it has been committed, including more than $21 billion in security assistance.  

The $1.85 billion package announced Wednesday is the latest installment. It comprises two parts, officials said.

First, $1 billion of it represents the value of weapons drawn from existing Defense Department inventories — not just the Patriot battery but vehicles, missiles, munitions, artillery rounds, mortar systems, body armor and more.

Included, too, according to a senior military official, are Joint Direct Attack Munitions — precision aerial munitions with tail kits that transform gravity bombs into guided ones.

While much of those existing inventories can be delivered relatively quickly, training Ukrainian personnel to operate the Patriot system, in particular, “will take several months,” a senior defense official told reporters Wednesday afternoon.

Secondly, the new package would provide $850 million worth of newly procured weapons, including tank ammunition, rockets, satellite communications terminals and Soviet-style artillery rounds that will enable the Ukrainian forces to bring more of their older howitzers into the fight, the senior defense official said.

Those weapons, too, will not arrive overnight. The new procurements “typically take longer to deliver,” the defense official said.

Omnibus package

The omnibus’ Ukraine supplemental, meanwhile, will help Ukraine considerably, if not right away.

The Ukraine section of the fiscal 2023 omnibus bill would provide $44.9 billion in additional military, economic and other support going forward. The Senate is poised to vote on the measure soon, with last-minute haggling over amendments underway. And Biden is expected to sign the bill into law later this week.

Consideration of the omnibus comes in the waning days of this Congress, before Republicans — some of whom want to cut back on aid to Ukraine — take the House majority in the next Congress. 

The biggest part of the $44.9 billion package is nearly $28 billion for the Defense Department. Yet only about one-third of that Pentagon money, or $9 billion, would pay for arms that would be delivered directly to Ukraine once they are procured from contractors.

The bulk of the Defense package — more than $18 billion — would either repay the Pentagon for the equipment and personnel it has already sent to the region or pay the U.S. armed services to provide more support in the future.

The $18 billion-plus includes $11.9 billion to restock Pentagon shelves with weapons that were diverted to Ukraine. 

The other part of the $18 billion is $6.6 billion to bulk up U.S. armed forces’ accounts for operations, procurement and even research programs with a purpose described only broadly in the bill as: “to respond to the situation in Ukraine and related expenses.”

“The Ukraine supplemental in the omnibus is not just about providing arms and economic assistance,” said Maseh Zarif, director of congressional relations at FDD Action, the advocacy arm of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a nonpartisan research institute, in a statement. “It also replenishes the Department of Defense stockpile, supports soldiers deployed in Europe, builds up America’s domestic industrial capacity, and invests in defense technology the military services need to counter threats in Europe.”

More drawdown authority

Perhaps the most near-term help for Ukraine would come from the omnibus measure’s authorization for the president to draw down from Defense Department inventories $14.5 billion worth of additional U.S. weapons for delivery to partners and allies.

The new authority is critical, because Wednesday’s announcement of $1 billion in drawdowns exhausted the previously provided authority. 

The omnibus also would appropriate $13 billion in economic aid through the State Department. 

Zelenskyy said that he will continue to ask Biden for more weapons and other support going forward, including more Patriots, which he called “the strongest element” of the omnibus Ukraine package. 

Biden made clear the United States is not done helping.

“You don’t have to worry,” Biden said, turning to Zelenskyy at the press conference. “We are staying with Ukraine as long as Ukraine is there.”

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