Speed Reads

Arms Race

New $800 million U.S. package of 'howitzers, helicopters, Humvees' for Ukraine aimed at Donbas fight

President Biden on Wednesday authorized another $800 million in military aid to Ukraine, summarized by the Pentagon as a tranche of "howitzers, helicopters, Humvees." The new package includes 18 155 mm howitzers, 11 Soviet-designed Mi-17 helicopters, and 300 Humvees and armored personnel carriers, plus unmanned coastal defense vessels, Javelin anti-tank missiles, Switchblade drones, radar systems, and other materiel.

Some of the munitions "are reinforcing capabilities that we have already been providing Ukraine and some of them are new capabilities that we have not provided to Ukraine," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday. The package is "very much an effort to give the Ukrainians every possible advantage in this fight that's coming," in the eastern Donbas region, which Kirby described as "a little bit like Kansas," flatter and more open than the urban and forested battlefields around Kyiv.

The new $800 million U.S. package, matched by another $540 million from the European Union, has more sophisticated and heavy-duty weapons than in previous tranches, representing the Biden administration's growing comfort sending lethal aid to help Ukraine beat Russia. "How that gets interpreted by the Russians — you can ask [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and the Kremlin," Kirby said Wednesday.

"The envelope of what people are prepared to provide has grown considerably in the last couple of weeks," and not just on the Biden team, a U.S. official told CNN. The Czech Republic is sending Ukraine T-72 tanks, Slovakia sent in S-300 antiaircraft missile systems, and other countries "are providing terrific capabilities that they won't talk about," giving Kyiv "systems and weapons and platforms that the Ukrainians are comfortable using and know how to use," a senior Pentagon official said Wednesday.

This Western weaponry "pouring into" Ukraine daily "seems certain to play a central role in the approaching, potentially decisive, battle for Ukraine's contested Donbas region," The Associated Press reports. But so far, "the Russian military is making little headway halting what has become a historic arms express," due to "Russia's failure to win full control of Ukraine's skies," lack of intelligence on which trucks are transporting weapons through Ukraine, and other factors.

"The short answer to the question is that they are an epically incompetent army badly led from the very top," said former U.S. NATO commander Adm. James Stavridis.

Still, many of the new weapons "are heavier, making them more difficult to transport across the country," CNN notes.