Defense

Pentagon says it will fund tanks for Ukraine

The Pentagon on Friday announced it will be funding tanks sent to Ukraine for the first time, part of a $400 million military assistance package that will also provide armored vehicles, drones and a budget to refurbish air defense missiles. 

The additional military, ground and air capabilities come as Ukrainian forces are pushing forward on an offensive to retake the southern city of Kherson, even as they come under increased aerial attacks from Russia, including from Iranian-supplied drones.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had called for NATO to supply tanks within the first weeks of Russia’s invasion, which began on Feb. 24.

On Friday he tweeted that Ukraine is “thankful to [President Biden] and the people of [the United States] for another $400 military assistance package.” 

The weapons package includes 90 refurbished T-72 tanks, which will all come from the Czech Republic. The United States will pay for 45 of them to be refurbished, while the Netherlands will pay to refurbish the other 45, according to Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh.

The T-72s mark the first provision of tanks from U.S. funds since the war in Ukraine began, with some of the vehicles expected to be delivered by the end of December, Singh said.

Despite Russia’s efforts, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that Ukraine is making “incremental progress” in the south.

“There is some incremental progress by the Ukrainians in the south and, quite frankly, up in the northeast as well, as they continue to try to push the Russian lines back even further,” he said.

Kirby added that the Russian lines are “largely static and deepening” and echoed reported observations of Russian military movements in the territory around Kherson and civilian evacuations. This could signal preparations for an upcoming battle.

Part of the $400 million will be directed to manufacturers to refurbish HAWK air defense missiles, and their delivery is expected to be announced in a future presidential drawdown of military assistance to Ukraine, Kirby said.

​​“We’ll spend the money to get these HAWK interceptors back up to code, and then in the future presidential drawdown we’ll deliver them right to Ukraine. That’s an example of evolving to meet the needs,” he said.

Also included in the package is 250 M1117 Armored Security Vehicles and 1,100 new Phoenix Ghost drones, although Singh did not “have an exact timeline for when this next tranche” of drones will be delivered. 

Kirby added that the administration is going to keep working with Congress to sustain military, financial and economic support for Ukraine amid pushback from a vocal minority of Republicans critical of sending American dollars to Kyiv.

The U.S. has provided more than $18 billion in military assistance to Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February. The U.S. Agency for International Development has provided $9.88 billion in development and humanitarian assistance.

But the American public’s support for providing assistance to Ukraine is growing increasingly partisan, according to recent polling by The Wall Street Journal.

The newspaper found that while 57 percent of Americans support continued assistance to Ukraine, only 35 percent of Republicans do so, compared to 81 percent of Democrats. Among independents, 45 percent support providing aid to Ukraine. 

Some Republican lawmakers have warned they will scrutinize or oppose aid to Ukraine if they attain a majority in Congress following the midterm elections. 

Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Green (R-Ga.) said on Thursday at a rally hosted by former President Trump in Sioux City, Iowa, that “not another penny will go to Ukraine” if Republicans retake control of Congress.

And House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has said that a GOP-led House is unlikely to write a “blank check” for Ukraine.  

Republicans who have a national security and foreign policy portfolio on Capitol Hill have told The Hill that support remains strong among the GOP for supplying Ukraine with the military and economic assistance it needs to prosecute the war against Russia. 

And a bipartisan pair of senators visited Kyiv this week to underscore the commitment from both Republicans and Democrats.   

Ellen Mitchell contributed to this report.

Tags Biden Iran Joe Biden John Kirby North Korea russia ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky

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