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US poised to send billion-dollar package of military aid to Ukraine

US President Joe Biden (Andrew Harnik/AP)
US President Joe Biden (Andrew Harnik/AP)

US officials say the Pentagon is poised to send an initial one billion-dollar package (£0.8 billion) of military aid to Ukraine as the Senate begins a debate on long-awaited legislation to fund the weapons Kyiv needs to stall gains being made by Russian forces in the war.

The decision on Tuesday comes after months of frustration, with bitterly divided members of Congress deadlocked over the funding.

House Speaker Mike Johnson was forced to cobble together a dramatic bipartisan coalition to pass the Bill.

The 95 billion-dollar (£76 billion) foreign aid package including billions for Israel and Taiwan, passed the House on Saturday and the Senate approval was expected on either Tuesday or Wednesday. About 61 billion dollars (£49 billion) of the aid is for Ukraine.

Russia Ukraine War Battle Race
A Ukrainian soldier passes by a damaged apartment building in Chasiv Yar, the site of heavy battles with the Russian forces in Ukraine’s Donetsk region (Iryna Rybakova via AP)

The package includes an array of ammunition, including air defence munitions and large amounts of artillery rounds that are much in demand by Ukrainian forces, as well as armoured vehicles and other weapons.

The US officials said some of the weapons will be delivered very quickly to the battlefront — at times within days — but it could take longer for other items to arrive. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the initial aid had not yet been publicly announced.

America’s infusion of weapons comes on the heels of an announcement by the UK on Tuesday, pledging an additional 620 million dollars (£498 million) in new military supplies for Ukraine, including long-range missiles and four million rounds of ammunition.

The announcement reflects US President Joe Biden’s promise on Monday in a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky saying that the US would send the badly needed air defence weapons once the Senate approved the Bill.

Mr Zelensky said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that Mr Biden also assured him that a coming package of aid would also include long-range and artillery capabilities.

The latest tranche of weapons will be provided through presidential drawdown authority, or PDA, which pulls systems and munitions from existing US stockpiles and sends them quickly to the war front. Some of the munitions are already in Europe.

Last week, an array of US leaders described how urgently Ukraine needs the infusion of aid. Without it, said CIA director Bill Burns, Ukraine could lose the war to Russia by the end of this year.

And Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin told House members that conditions on the battlefield were shifting and Russian forces were making incremental gains.

General CQ Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, bluntly described the situation to the House Defence Appropriations Subcommittee, saying Ukraine is facing “dire battlefield conditions”.

During a virtual meeting last Friday of defence ministers in the Nato-Ukraine Council, Mr Austin underscored the need for “immediate, concerted action” on air defence weapons for Kyiv, the Pentagon said.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Mr Zelensky attended the meeting, along with other Nato allies.

The US move to finally send the much-needed weapons comes as Pentagon leaders prepare to meet defence officials from Europe and around the world on Friday to discuss international aid for Ukraine.

The gathering – created by Mr Austin and known as the Ukraine Defence Contact Group – has been meeting about monthly for the past two years, but in recent sessions officials have expressed growing consternation over the US gridlock.

More than 20 billion dollars (£16 billion) in the aid Bill is earmarked to replenish US military stocks that have been depleted because they were sent to Ukraine.

Since Russia’s February 2022 invasion, the US has sent more than 44 billion dollars-worth (£35 billion) of weapons, maintenance, training and spare parts to Ukraine.

For the bulk of that time, the aid packages were moving routinely every few weeks. But the money was drying up by the end of the fiscal year on September 30. And by mid-December, the Pentagon said it had run out of money and had to stop sending weapons because – without the funding package stalled in Congress — it could no longer afford to replace them.

The billion-dollar package was first reported by Reuters.