Artillery types

Biden announces heavy artillery and other weapons for Ukraine

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Thursday pledged an additional $1.3 billion for new weapons and economic assistance to help Ukraine in its fierce but increasingly difficult battle against the Russian invasionand he promised to ask much more of Congress to keep arms, ammunition and cash flowing.

The latest military aid, Biden said, will be sent “straight to the front lines of freedom.”

“Putin is banking on our loss of interest,” Biden said. The Russian president is betting that “Western unity will crack… and once again we will prove him wrong”.

The new package includes $800 million in military aid for much-needed heavy artillery, 144,000 rounds and drones for battle escalation in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region.. It builds on about $2.6 billion in military aid that Biden had previously approved.

There is also new direct economic assistance of $500 million t o Ukraine for government salaries, pensions and other programs. This brings total US economic support to $1 billion since the Russian invasion began nearly two months ago.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed his gratitude to the United States in his overnight speech in Ukraine, saying the military aid was “exactly what we expected”. Earlier in a virtual address to the World Bank meeting in Washington, he said his country would also need $7 billion a month to offset economic losses.

With tens of thousands of buildings damaged and key infrastructure in ruins, Ukraine “will need hundreds of billions of dollars to rebuild,” Zelenskyy said.

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Biden stressed the need for the United States and Western allies to remain steadfast in their support for Ukraine amid signs that Americans may become more wary of the war.

A poll released Thursday by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that Americans’ desire to get involved has waned somewhat. Some 32% say the United States should play a major role in the conflict. That’s down from 40% last month, though it’s slightly higher than the 26% who said so in February. Another 49% say the United States should play a minor role.

The president also announced that Russian-affiliated vessels would be barred from US ports, although this appears to be largely symbolic. Russian vessels bring a tiny fraction of the unloaded cargo to the United States, and “I guess … a lot of that amount was tankers carrying Russian oil, which is now banned anyway,” Colin Grabow said. , a researcher who studies trade. at the Cato Institute.

Overall, Biden said $6.5 billion in security aid that Congress approved last month as part of a $13.6 billion package for Ukraine could soon be “sold out”. With the latest announcement, Biden has approved about $3.4 billion in military aid since Feb. 24. The overall Congressional total also included about $6.8 billion in direct economic aid to care for refugees and provide economic aid to allies in the war-affected region — and additional funding for federal agencies to help apply economic sanctions against Russia and protect against cyber threats.

“Next week, I’m going to have to send Congress a supplemental budget request to keep the deployment of weapons and ammunition uninterrupted,” Biden said.

Congress has signaled that it is receptive to further requests and expects Ukrainians to need additional help. But the issue could become embroiled in partisan fights over pandemic spending and immigration, complicating the path.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has expressed willingness to consider more aid to Ukraine in recent weeks. “I think we have to say we want the Ukrainians to win, and we’re ready to do whatever we can to help them win,” McConnell said Monday in Shelbyville, Kentucky.

“We want to do more,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, told reporters on Capitol Hill during an appearance with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal. She said lawmakers would learn more about Biden’s latest funding request “in the coming days, to be processed as soon as possible.” Next week.”

Biden chose retired Lt. Gen. Terry Wolff, a National Security Council official in the Obama administration, to oversee the coordination of security assistance to Ukraine, according to a White House official. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the appointment which has yet to be officially announced, said Wolff had been brought to the White House National Security Council team in recent years. days.

Biden spoke about the new assistance, and the situation in Ukraine more broadly, hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed victory in the strategic city of Mariupol. Putin, however, ordered his troops not to risk further casualties as they stormed the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance on the war’s iconic battlefield.

Biden, in an exchange with reporters following his remarks, called Russia’s claim to Mariupol “questionable.”

Russian forces destroyed much of the southeastern port city, which witnessed some of the fiercest fighting of the war. According to Russian estimates, around 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers remain locked in a sprawling steel mill, even as Russia continues to shell the industrial site and issue ultimatums to surrender.

Biden sought to impress upon the Russians that much more military aid for Ukraine would come.

“Sometimes we’ll talk softly and carry a big javelin, because we send a lot of them,” Biden said, paraphrasing Theodore Roosevelt and referring to an anti-tank missile system.

The new US military assistance will include 72 155mm howitzers, 144,000 artillery shells, 72 vehicles used to tow the howitzers across battlefields and more than 121 Phoenix Ghost tactical drones, as well as field equipment and spare parts. replacement.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the drones were developed by the Air Force and met a specific need for Ukrainian forces in the battle for Donbass. The drones are produced by an American company, Aevex Aerospace, under a program that began before the invasion of Russia on February 24. Kirby said the Phoenix Ghost is similar to the armed Switchblade kamikaze drones the Pentagon already supplies to Ukraine.

The 72 howitzers are in addition to the 18 announced last week that the United States was transferring to Ukraine.

Biden’s decision to quadruple the number pledged in an arms package announced last week reflects what is shaping up to be a major ground battle in eastern Ukraine’s disputed Donbass region.

The Russians have deployed additional artillery there in recent days as they aim to expand their offensive and try to take full control of Donbass after pulling out of a failed attempt to capture the capital Kyiv. Heavy weapons like artillery are expected to play a key role in fighting in the relatively confined area where Ukrainian and Russian-backed separatists have been fighting since 2014.

The new aid announcements came against the backdrop of International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings this week, dominated by how to handle the fallout from Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Prior to his remarks, Biden met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Shmyhal. The Ukrainian leader also met with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Thursday as well as Pelosi.

At a press conference, Yellen said the economic aid sent by the United States and its allies “is just the beginning of what Ukraine will need to rebuild.” She added that she would discuss efforts to help Ukraine further with her Western counterparts this week.

“I think we are united in recognizing that we need to find ways to meet Ukraine’s needs,” she said.

The Biden administration also announced a new program on Thursday to streamline refugee claims for Ukrainians. and others fleeing the fighting while still in Europe. The United States will no longer routinely grant entry to those who show up at the US-Mexico border seeking asylum, as thousands have done.

The United States plans to admit up to 100,000 refugees from Ukraine and about 15,000 have come, mostly via Mexico.

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Associated Press writers Ben Fox, Alan Fram, Fatima Hussein, Chris Megerian, Zeke Miller and Paul Wiseman contributed reporting.