The United States and some of its European allies announced significant new arms donations to Ukraine, including armored vehicles and heavy weaponry, ahead of a key meeting to bolster the country’s defenses nearly a year after the Russian invasion.
The US has said its military support package – which includes armored vehicles, air defense systems and tens of thousands of missiles and artillery rounds – is worth about $2.5 billion. There will be 59 Bradley fighting vehicles and 90 Stryker armored personnel carriers, the US Department of Defense said in a statement on Thursday.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it was “an important new package of security assistance to help Ukraine continue to defend itself against Russia’s brutal war.” The latest package brings U.S. military aid to Ukraine to about $27.4 billion, he added.
Earlier, in a joint statement with defense ministers and representatives of nine European countries, Great Britain said it would send 600 Brimstone missiles to Kyiv, while Denmark promised 19 French-made Caesar howitzers, and Sweden the Archer artillery system, a modern mobile howitzer Ukraine has already requested months.
“We recognize that equipping Ukraine to push Russia off its territory is just as important as equipping it to defend what it already has,” the statement said.
“Together, we will continue to support Ukraine to move from resistance to the expulsion of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory. The new level of required combat power is only achieved through combinations of main battle tank squadrons, anti-aircraft and anti-missile defenses working together with divisional artillery groups, and further deep precision fires to target Russian logistics and command hubs in occupied territory.”
The announcements came ahead of a meeting of defense and other officials from about 50 countries, including all 30 NATO members, at Ramstein Air Base in Germany to discuss support for Kiev amid brutal fighting in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s continued airstrikes on its cities. .
Anticipating the German talks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said late Thursday that Kyiv expects “strong decisions” from the meeting.
“Actually, we are now waiting for the decision of one European capital to activate the ready chains of cooperation regarding tanks,” Zelenskyy said in a video address.
“We are preparing for tomorrow’s meeting in Ramstein. We expect strong decisions. We expect a strong military aid package from the US,” he added.
Warnings from the Kremlin
Pressure is mounting on Germany to provide its modern Leopard 2 tanks, with Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government so far reluctant to approve their transfer for fear of provoking Moscow. Germany has the right to veto any transfer.
The Kremlin warned on Thursday that sending heavy weapons that could attack Russian territory would be interpreted as escalation.
“This is potentially extremely dangerous,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “This will mean raising the conflict to a completely new level, which, of course, will not bode well from the point of view of global and pan-European security.”
Ukraine and Russia have relied mainly on Soviet-era T-72 tanks, which were destroyed by the hundreds during the war that began on February 24 last year when Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops across the border in what continues to be called a “special military operation”.
Fearing that the colder months will give Russian forces time to regroup and launch a major attack, Ukraine has stepped up calls for its allies to step up aid.
During his December trip to Washington, DC, Zelenskyy told the US Congress that support for Ukraine is not charity but an investment in democracy.
On Thursday, Berlin appeared to leave open the possibility of allowing allies to supply Ukraine with the requested tanks, saying the situation “will become clear in the next few hours or tomorrow morning”.
Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas told the AFP news agency that “some countries will send” Leopard tanks to Ukraine and promised “more news tomorrow” at the talks.
Ukraine’s Western allies have been reluctant to transfer heavier weapons to avoid making Nato appear to be confronting Russia directly, but officials in Kiev say the tanks are crucial if Ukraine is to recapture territory it occupied by the Russians, and defend against further attacks.
“From Washington to London, from Paris to Warsaw, you hear one thing: Ukraine needs tanks. Tanks are the key to a proper end to war. It’s time to stop trembling in front of Putin and take the last step,” Zelensky’s advisor Mykhailo Podolyak wrote in a tweet.
Meanwhile, CIA Director William Burns secretly traveled to Kyiv to meet with Zelensky, a US official told Reuters on Thursday, declining to say when the visit took place.
The Washington Post, which first reported Burns’ trip, said the CIA director was in Ukraine late last week and briefed Zelensky on how the US views Russia as it sets its military plans in the coming weeks and months.
Fighting continues to be most intense in the eastern industrial region known as Donbas, Ukrainian military officials said Thursday evening.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces announced that Russian forces shelled the city of Bakhmut, the main Russian center in Donetsk province, which together with Luhansk province forms the Donbass region.
Soledar, about 20 km (12 miles) from Bakhmut, was also under fire. Russian forces claim to control the city, known for its salt mines, while Ukraine says its army is still fighting there.
Russian forces also shelled nearby towns – including Klishivka, south of Bakhmut, the Ukrainian military said. Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary army, said his forces had taken control of Klishchiivka, which Ukraine opposes.