A United States official has said President Joe Biden’s administration will soon announce a $1.8bn military aid package for Kyiv, which will for the first time include a Patriot missile battery and precision-guided bombs for Ukrainian fighter jets, amid reports the war-torn country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, may visit Washington, DC.
US officials described details of the aid package on condition of anonymity on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.
Media organisations citing unnamed sources also reported on Wednesday that Zelenskyy could travel to Washington, DC to meet Biden and visit the US Congress. Zelenskyy’s spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on the trip and security concerns could yet force the Ukrainian leader to change his plans, a source told the Reuters news agency.
US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier on Tuesday said in a letter that there would be a session of Congress on Wednesday night, which would have a “very special focus on democracy”, further heightening speculation the Ukrainian president would visit the US capital.
The $1.8bn aid package due to be announced by Biden, according to AP, signals an expansion in the kinds of advanced weaponry the US is sending Ukraine to bolster the country’s air defences against what has been an increasing barrage of Russian missile attacks.
The package, which is expected to be announced on Wednesday, according to the AP, will include about $1bn in weapons from Pentagon stocks and another $800m in funding through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which funds weapons, ammunition, training and other assistance, officials said.
The Biden administration’s decision to send the Patriot missile system comes despite Russian threats that delivery of such an advanced surface-to-air missile battery would be considered a provocative step and that the system – and any crews accompanying it – would be a legitimate target for Moscow’s military.
When the Patriot would arrive on the front lines in Ukraine is unknown and US forces must also train Ukrainians on how to use the high-tech system. That training could take several weeks and is expected to be undertaken at the Grafenwoehr Training Area in Germany.
All US and Western allies’ training of Ukraine forces has taken place in European countries.
The expected announcement of the aid package comes as the US Congress is poised to approve another $44.9bn in assistance for Ukraine as part of a significant spending bill. That would ensure US support for Kyiv will continue next year and beyond, as Republicans take control of the House of Representatives in January.
Some Republican politicians have expressed wariness about the amount of US assistance being channelled to Ukraine.
Also included in the soon-to-be-announced package will be an undisclosed number of Joint Direct Attack Munitions kits, or JDAMs, officials said.
The kits will be used to modify bombs by adding tail fins and precision navigation systems so that rather than being simply dropped from a fighter jet onto a target, they can be guided to the target on release.
US fighter and bomber aircraft use the JDAMs and the Pentagon has been working to modify them so they can be used by Ukraine’s air force.
Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials have pressed Western leaders to provide more advanced weapons, particularly for air defence, and the Patriot would be the most advanced surface-to-air missile system the West has given Ukraine to help repel Russian aerial attacks.
Reluctance to supply hi-tech weaponry
Washington has been reluctant to give Ukraine US fighter jets and Moscow has warned the advanced aircraft would also be considered provocative.
Instead of providing Ukraine with aircraft, the Pentagon is helping Kyiv find innovative ways to upgrade its existing fleet with the latest capabilities available on US fighters.
The soon-to-be-announced aid package will also include an undisclosed number of rockets for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, thousands of artillery and mortar rounds, trucks and HARM air-to-surface anti-radiation missiles.
According to officials, Kyiv’s urgent pleas and the devastating destruction of Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure, including loss of electricity and heat during winter, ultimately overcame US reservations about supplying the Patriots.
French President Emmanuel Macron also said on Tuesday that France had delivered more air defence missile systems and other weapons to Ukraine and would send more early next year.
“In recent days, France has sent Ukraine more arms, rocket launchers, Crotale (air defence batteries), equipment beyond what we had already done,” Macron told France’s TF1 and LCI television.
“We are also working with the armed forces minister [Sebastien Lecornu] to be able to deliver useful arms and ammunition again in the first quarter [of 2023] so that the Ukrainians would be able to defend themselves against bombardments,” he said.
Future planned shipments include new Caesar mobile artillery units but Macron provided no precise figures.
The French president said the number “will depend” on the outcome of ongoing discussions with Denmark, which had ordered the Caesar guns from France and may agree to give at least some of them to Kyiv.
Since Russia’s invasion in February, France has sent Ukraine 18 Caesar units and a 155-mm howitzer mounted on a six-wheeled truck chassis, capable of firing shells at ranges of more than 40 km (25 miles).
Macron said he had two “red lines” when it came to arms deliveries: that it did not affect France’s ability to defend itself and did not make Paris a co-belligerent in the war.
The arms were to “enable Ukraine to defend itself” in the face of a relentless barrage of Russian missiles and drone attacks, he said.
Paris has also already delivered anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles as well as armoured personnel carriers.