US sending secretly acquired Soviet air defense equipment to Ukraine: report

The U.S. is sending Ukraine some Soviet-made air defense equipment that Washington took charge of decades ago through a secret program, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday. 

The systems, to include the SA-8 short-range surface-to-air missile system, were obtained by the U.S. for the purposes of examining Russian military technology and helping train American troops, U.S. officials told the outlet

The weapons are useful to Ukrainian forces, as their military already knows how to use Soviet systems.

Both the National Security Council and Pentagon declined to comment on what specific weapons the U.S. has sent to Ukraine to help the country beat back a violent Russian invasion that began Feb. 24. 

“Operational security matters to the Ukrainians, right now,” press secretary John Kirby told reporters Monday.

“They’re fighting for their country, and the Pentagon is not going to be detailing publicly the tools with  which they are doing that,” he added.  

The Biden administration has approved more than $1 billion in military aid to Ukraine in the past month, including an $800 million package announced last week. 

But the U.S. government has been hesitant to detail exactly what is being sent in so as not to tip off or draw the ire of Moscow. The Kremlin has publicly stated that any Western country that provides certain weapons to Ukraine, including aircraft and missile defense systems, could be seen as entering the fight. 

The U.S. has a small number of Soviet missile defense systems it acquired in the past 30 years as part of a secret, $100 million project that first gained notice in 1994, a former official involved in the mission told the Journal.  

Among the weapons the U.S. received — some of which have been kept at Redstone Arsenal, Ala. — is the SA-8, which can be easily moved with ground forces and provide cover from aircraft and helicopters.  

Also in the U.S. stockpile is the S-300 long-range air defense system. The system is meant to protect larger areas and is already owned and operated by the Ukrainians. That weapon, however, will not be sent to Ukraine, according to one official.

The administration is authorized to transfer such equipment under the new annual government spending bill President Biden signed into law last week. The legislation approves a $13.6 billion aid package for Ukraine, of which about $3.5 billion will go to the Pentagon to backfill equipment being sent from the U.S. to Ukraine. 

Also under the law, the U.S. can transfer lethal aid to NATO allies that is already overseas or in existing stockpiles.

The U.S. has already sought to have Slovakia provide its S-300 to Ukraine, but the NATO ally wants a guarantee it will get a “proper replacement” and soon. There has yet to be an agreement between the two countries.  

Biden will now travel to Brussels this week for a NATO summit to discuss ways to help Ukraine, according to the White House.

“We are continuing to work with our allies and key partners to surge new assistance, including Soviet- or Russian-origin antiaircraft systems and the necessary ammunition to employ them, every day to Ukraine,” a U.S. official told the Journal.  

Tags Air defense In Ukraine Joe Biden John Kirby Missile defense Post-Soviet conflicts Russia Surface-to-air missile Ukraine Ukraine invasion Wall Street Journal

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