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Biden pledges $3 billion in long-term military aid for Ukraine

Ukrainian troops prepare to hoist their national flag during a ceremony in Kryvyi Rih, the hometown of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. (Heidi Levine for The Washington Post)

President Biden on Wednesday announced the United States’ largest single commitment of weapons and ammunition for Ukraine, in what his administration called a symbol of Washington’s long-term backing against Russia’s invasion.

The $2.98 billion package, unveiled on Ukraine’s Independence Day, includes more artillery, drones, radar and air defenses. It commits six additional surface-to-air missile systems, quadrupling the supply committed to Ukraine, plus hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition for the howitzers and mortars in use on the battlefield. Counter-drone weapons known as Vampires will be provided for the first time.

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“The United States of America is committed to supporting the people of Ukraine as they continue the fight to defend their sovereignty,” Biden said in a statement. “Today and every day, we stand with the Ukrainian people to proclaim that the darkness that drives autocracy is no match for the flame of liberty that lights the souls of free people everywhere.”

Wednesday’s announcement was soon overshadowed by reports of Russian strikes on a train station in central Ukraine that killed more than 20 and wounded dozens more, according to the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky. It coincided, too, with fresh warnings from the White House that Moscow may move as soon as this week to annex occupied territory in the east.

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Despite its considerable size, the new aid package is unlikely to fuel a major or immediate escalation in the volume or rate of military assistance flowing into Ukraine. Colin Kahl, the undersecretary of defense for policy, said these weapons are not intended to affect “today’s fight” but to underscore “our commitment to supporting Ukraine for the long term.”

The package is categorized under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, through which the United States contracts with the defense-production industry to fulfill orders for foreign clients. Much of the previous U.S. security assistance has come from existing stocks, enabling immediate disbursement.

The Pentagon has boasted in recent months about the speed with which it has transferred military aid to the government in Kyiv, noting that in some cases it was mere days between security-assistance announcements and the weapons crossing into Ukrainian territory. It will be months or years before some of the equipment in this package reaches the battlefield, Kahl said.

It is “the beginning of a contracting process to provide additional priority capabilities to Ukraine in the mid- and long-term to ensure Ukraine can continue to defend itself as an independent, sovereign and prosperous state,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement.

Such a drawn-out delivery window, observers say, appears to signal that the United States is bracing for Ukraine’s war with Russia to last for years.

“Independent of what happens in the coming months, the U.S. likely anticipates it could be a protracted conflict,” said Michael Kofman, the director of Russia studies at CNA, a think tank in Virginia.

In a call with reporters, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby affirmed that Ukrainian troops may wait on some weapons longer than others, depending on what U.S. contractors have readily available. Some items, such as artillery ammunition, could be issued more quickly than complex systems such as radar and drones, he said, declining to put specific timelines on any items in the aid package.

Administration officials said that the United States will probably send additional aid that draws from existing weapons stocks while orders in the new $3 billion package are being fulfilled.

“This may be our largest security assistance package to date, but let me be clear, it won’t be our last,” Kahl said.

That leaves unresolved questions about whether the United States may arm Ukraine with more aggressive weaponry in the future. Officials in Kyiv have appealed to Washington to send fighter jets and long-range missiles that, to date, the United States has resisted supplying.

Such hardware was not a part of the long-term package announced Wednesday. When asked about them, Kahl noted that “fighter aircraft remain on the table” but that no final decisions had been made. He had a similar response when asked about Army Tactical Missile Systems, which can travel nearly 186 miles: “It’s our assessment,” Kahl said, that the Ukrainians “don’t currently require” them.

Ukrainian officials have been frustrated by Washington’s reluctance to provide those types of arms, saying Russian commanders have adapted by moving their positions out of range.

Ukraine has appealed to its allies for bigger and more powerful weapons as it tries to avert a stalemate on the battlefield, with both Ukrainian and Russian forces struggling to gain or reclaim territory in the country’s east and south.

Ukrainian officials recently have touted plans to launch a counteroffensive to retake the city of Kherson — but there is little evidence they are prepared to execute such an operation, with Russia having reinforced its military positions in the area.

New weapons for Ukraine suggest preparation for closer combat

A separate U.S. aid package for Ukraine, announced late last week, appeared to anticipate a potential counteroffensive, favoring weapons that would allow Ukrainian troops to be more nimble on the battlefield and operate in closer proximity to Russian forces than the distant artillery duels that have defined the last few months of fighting.

Both sides have taken significant losses after six months of combat, Kofman said. Ukrainian officials may be contemplating whether to delay the counteroffensive, evaluating whether their forces can continue to wear down Russia’s position through sabotage attacks on its logistics lines and missile strikes deep within their territorial strongholds, thus degrading their ability to amass troops and supplies.

Russian forces, though drained by their bloody capture of Severodonetsk in the east, would probably benefit from a later start to any Ukrainian counteroffensive, as the delay would create an opportunity to rest personnel, train fresh troops and further reinforce positions in the south.

Kahl noted Wednesday that the latest military assistance package is “agnostic” and “does not presume any particular outcome” of the fight between Ukraine and Russia, or who might prevail.

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

The latest: Russia fired at least 85 missiles on at least six major cities in Ukraine on November 15, in one of the most widespread attacks of the war so far. The strikes came just hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, speaking by video link, presented a 10-point peace plan to G-20 leaders at a summit in Indonesia. As in previous Russian missile attacks, critical civilian infrastructure appeared to be primary targets. Parts of several cities that were hit were left without electrical power on Tuesday afternoon.

Russia’s Gamble: The Post examined the road to war in Ukraine, and Western efforts to unite to thwart the Kremlin’s plans, through extensive interviews with more than three dozen senior U.S., Ukrainian, European and NATO officials.

Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.

How you can help: Here are ways those in the U.S. can support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.

Read our full coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war. Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for updates and exclusive video.

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