The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

As war loomed, U.S. armed Ukraine to hit Russian aircraft, tanks and prep for urban combat, declassified shipment list shows

Ukrainian soldiers train with U.S. Javelin missiles during military exercises in December. (Ukrainian Defense Ministry Press Service/AP)
4 min

The United States drastically enhanced its shipments of lethal military aid and protective equipment to Ukraine as the prospect of a Russian invasion became more apparent and then a reality, according to a declassified accounting of transfers and sales reviewed by The Washington Post.

The list indicates that as early as December, the Pentagon was equipping Ukrainian fighters with arms and equipment useful for fighting in urban areas, including shotguns and specialized suits to safeguard soldiers handling unexploded ordnance. Over the past week, the Biden administration has increased such shipments, sending Stinger antiaircraft missile systems for the first time and further augmenting Kyiv’s supply of antitank Javelin missiles and other ammunition.

Taken together, the variety, volume and potency of firepower being rushed into the war zone illustrate the extent to which the United States sought to prepare the Ukrainian military to wage a hybrid war against Russia, even as President Biden has expressly ruled out inserting American troops into the conflict.

The latest on the war in Ukraine

“This is a continuous process. We are always, always looking at what Ukraine needs, and we’ve been doing this for years now,” a senior defense official told reporters Friday on the condition of anonymity under ground rules established by the Pentagon. “We have just accelerated our process of identifying requirements and accelerated our consultations as well with the Ukrainians, talking to them daily, as opposed to periodic meetings that we did before this crisis.”

John Kirby, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, declined to comment. The list of materiel reviewed by The Post generally tracks with the administration’s broad public statements about the transfers. It does not contain any information designated classified.

Western allies tight-lipped about how they move military aid into Ukraine

Though Ukrainian fighters have managed to slow the invasion, Russian forces continue to make gains as they bear down on urban areas. The capital, Kyiv, and Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, have come under heavy bombardment. Russian troops also are closing in on the strategic port city of Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov, and pressing from Crimea toward Ukraine’s other large port city, Odessa.

Many experts say that despite the Ukrainian military’s efforts to exhaust Russian forces, the war is destined to turn into a street fight, particularly if Moscow is able to assert control over key cities. The shipment list suggests that the Biden administration anticipated Ukraine would need to arm itself for a multipronged invasion.

It affirms that the Biden administration has sent Stinger man-portable air defense systems, or MANPADS, to Ukraine over the past several days, weapons that would aid soldiers targeting Russian aircraft. Those were provided alongside shipments of Javelin missiles and launchers, a mainstay of military assistance to Ukraine since 2018, as well as ammunition.

About $240 million of the $350 million in military assistance that was approved in late February has already been transferred to Ukraine, according to a senior defense official.

Russia’s siege of Mariupol a grim sign for other major Ukrainian cities

Those shipments are in addition to about $200 million in military assistance approved for Ukraine in late December that included M141 single-shot shoulder-launched rocket launchers, M500 shotguns, Mk 19 grenade launchers, M134 mini guns typically used for firing from helicopters, and protective suits for explosive ordnance disposal.

A $200 million security support package from the United States arrived in Kyiv, the U.S. embassy said on Jan. 22. (Video: Reuters)

The Pentagon has declined to specify the amount or confirm the full roster of military equipment being supplied to Ukraine since Russian threats against the country sharply escalated over the winter. U.S. officials have cited concerns about identifying what capabilities the Ukrainians have at their disposal.

The United States is one of 14 countries that have delivered security assistance to Ukraine, some of which includes materiel that was originally provided to other U.S. allies but was approved for transfer to Ukraine. Such third-party transfers include anti-armor and antiaircraft systems, according to the list reviewed by The Post.

In the last year, the United States has committed more than $1 billion in military assistance to Ukraine, the senior defense official said. That includes counter-mortar radars, secure radios, electronic equipment, medical equipment, vehicles and a steady supply of Javelin missile systems, according to the list The Post reviewed. At least nine Island-class patrol boats and five Mi-17 transport helicopters have also been provided to Ukraine from the U.S. reserve of excess defense articles.

Ukraine had previously received 210 Javelins through the State Department’s Foreign Military Financing program in 2018 and purchased an additional 150 Javelins that arrived in 2020.

The United States has committed about $3 billion in military aid to Ukraine since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.