US pledges $60M in military aid to Ukraine ahead of Zelensky visit
President Biden is pledging to provide Ukraine with $60 million in military aid ahead of his first face-to-face meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday.
Biden made the announcement official in a notification sent to Congress, saying the military assistance package is for “critical border security and self-defense needs” to help Ukraine defend itself from increasing Russian aggression.
“Russia’s buildup along the Ukrainian border has highlighted capability shortfalls in the Ukrainian military’s ability to defend against a Russian incursion,” the notification reads.
“Ukraine’s significant capability gaps must be urgently addressed to reinforce deterrence in light of the current Russian threat.”
The White House notification also raised concerns about a Russia-Belarus military exercise scheduled to take place in mid-September. The document noted that “Russia has a history of using such exercises as cover to take aggressive actions against its neighbors.”
The aid package proposed by the White House is set to include Javelin anti-armor missile systems, first-aid kits, and small arms and ammunition. It also says that capabilities such as “counter-unmanned aerial systems and counter-mortar radars could also provide crucial early warning from indirect fire and airborne threats.”
The Associated Press first reported on Biden’s notification to Congress.
Biden had initially planned to meet Zelensky at the White House last week, but the meeting was postponed amid the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
A memo announcing the military package was first published by the White House on Friday, with the president notifying Congress that he had directed “the drawdown of up to $60 million in defense articles and services of the Department of Defense, and military education and training, to provide assistance to Ukraine and to make the determinations required under such section to direct such a drawdown.”
Military assistance to Ukraine is considered a vital aspect of U.S. efforts to counter Russian aggression, particularly the ongoing fighting in the east of the country against Russian-backed separatists. Russia has occupied Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula since 2014, though the international community has condemned it as an illegal annexation.
While the Biden administration has sought to showcase its solidarity with Ukraine, there are cracks between Washington and Kyiv over the Biden team’s agreement with Germany to allow the use of a Russian natural gas pipeline that Ukraine views as an geostrategic threat.
Biden has spoken with Zelensky twice by phone since taking office and ahead of a high-profile meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva in June.
U.S. military assistance to Ukraine became the center of a political firestorm during the Trump administration when the former president was impeached in 2019 on charges that he had sought to pressure Ukraine to launch an investigation into Biden, at the time a leading Democratic presidential candidate, and his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings in the country during the Obama administration, when Joe Biden was vice president.
That military assistance package, an estimated $400 million, was eventually delivered ahead of its expiration deadline. Trump was acquitted in a Senate trial.
The U.S. has provided Ukraine with $4.6 billion in aid since 2014, a combination of security and non-security assistance.