STOCKHOLM — The United States on Wednesday announced $325 million in new military aid for Ukraine in a package that is expected to include more artillery rounds and rockets for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), as Ukraine continues to burn through artillery munitions at a high rate.
Defense officials who spoke to VOA ahead of the package’s release say the latest aid also includes TOW anti-tank guided missiles, anti-tank mines and AT-4 anti-armor weapons needed to push back Russian ground forces that have dug into occupied areas of Ukraine.
Wednesday’s aid package marks the 36th authorized presidential drawdown of military equipment from Defense Department inventories.
The aid comes as battle lines in Ukraine have become static, exposing the larger Russian power’s weaknesses and Ukraine stubbornly defending its territory, according to a senior U.S. official. The head of Ukraine’s ground forces said on Tuesday that Russia was increasing its use of heavy artillery and airstrikes in the battle for the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, even as Russia continued to sustain significant losses in the battle.
Moscow began a renewed offensive in Ukraine earlier this year that has stalled, and Kyiv is preparing for a massive counteroffensive that is expected to begin in the coming days or weeks.
“If and when Ukraine tries a spring offensive, and it’s sort of petered out, then maybe you’re at a point where there could be enough of a stalemate that we see somebody show interest in a cease-fire,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
U.S. officials and analysts, including O’Hanlon, have warned the war could potentially drag into the U.S. Republican primary season and throughout next year. But O’Hanlon said he thinks U.S. and Western resolve over Ukraine will remain.
“I don’t see us deserting Ukraine. I think the West has made this a matter of high strategic and moral importance, and we will keep it that way,” he told VOA.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley will travel to Germany later this week for another meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, which includes about 50 nations coordinating aid to help Kyiv fend off Russia’s invasion that began in February 2022. This week’s meeting at Ramstein Air Base marks one year since Austin first gathered the group.
O’Hanlon said the group has worked better than predicted in terms of maintaining supplies for Ukraine, showing Western resolve to face down Russian aggression and having “Ukraine’s back even without having forces on the battlefield.”
The priorities during Friday’s meeting are expected to be ground-based air defenses, armor and artillery needs, according to a senior defense official.
“We think it will be a clear signal of not just unity — we continue to be as strong as we were a year ago — but also that that support is enduring going forward,” the official said, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity ahead of the meeting.
Even with massive help from the group, Ukrainian forces have experienced munitions and weapons shortages on the battlefield. A leaked memo from the U.S. military shared concern that Ukraine could run out of Soviet-era air defenses as soon as May, leaving Ukraine more exposed to Russian air assaults.
Sweden and NATO
Austin arrived in Sweden on Tuesday for a visit meant to emphasize U.S. support for Sweden’s application for NATO membership, according to a senior defense official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity. Sweden and Finland sought to join NATO in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year.
Finland was admitted as the 31st NATO member earlier this month, but Turkey and Hungary have so far withheld ratification of Sweden’s application over bilateral differences.
The senior U.S. official said Sweden’s ascension would enhance NATO’s defense capabilities in the Baltic Sea, where Russia has a “substantial presence.”
Austin will meet with Sweden’s defense minister on Wednesday and the prime minister on Thursday. He will also view some of Sweden’s advanced military capabilities during the visit.
Earlier this week, Sweden launched its largest military drills in the country in more than 25 years. The Aurora 23 military exercises include troops from the U.S., Britain, France, Germany and neighboring Nordic nations and will run through May 11.