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Politics

What Congress' $60 billion of military aid for Ukraine could mean for the battlefield

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

After months of resistance from Republicans in Congress, President Biden today signed a $95 billion military aid package, which will arm Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. For more details, we're joined now by NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. Hey, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK, so let's start with Ukraine. What exactly is headed their way?

MYRE: Well, the Pentagon immediately announced more than 20 different types of weapons and military equipment that will be headed to Ukraine in this initial tranche worth around $1 billion. Now, the list includes two types of weapons Ukraine says it urgently needs. One is artillery shells. The ground war in Eastern Ukraine is largely an artillery war, and Russia has a huge advantage. Ukrainian military officers talk about Russian artillery fire outnumbering Ukrainian fire by up to 10-1. They say they've had to ration shells, and in some cases, they've run out of ammunition and had to retreat. This has allowed Russia to be on the offensive in recent months.

CHANG: OK, and what's the second type of weapon?

MYRE: The second key weapon is air defense missiles. Ukraine's limited air defenses have performed extremely well over the past two years, but recently it's been more vulnerable to attacks on cities and the power grid. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia recently fired 11 missiles in a sustained attack on a civilian power plant outside the capital, Kyiv. The Ukrainians shot down the first seven incoming missiles. But then they ran out of ammo, and the last four Russian missiles hit the plant and caused power outages.

CHANG: Wow. OK, so are these weapons new or any different in terms of what the U.S. has sent before?

MYRE: Yeah, there's one quite powerful new weapon. It's an ATACMS. It's a U.S. missile that can travel close to 200 miles. Now, just this afternoon, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the U.S. recently began shipping ATACMS secretly without announcing it, and there are now plans to send more. Another U.S. official said Ukraine has fired these missiles twice in the past week or so against Russian targets in southern Ukraine. Ailsa, this is really a significant development. Ukraine has been pleading for these longer-range weapons, and the Biden administration had been resisting.

CHANG: But how does this type of missile change what Ukraine can do on the battlefield?

MYRE: Well, this will help Ukraine hit valuable Russian targets far beyond the front lines, in particular in southern Ukraine. This would include Russian bases in the Crimean peninsula and Russian ships in the Black Sea. I spoke about this with John Herbst. He's a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who's now at the Atlantic Council. He says Russian leader Vladimir Putin knows this is a potential weak spot.

JOHN HERBST: Putin has a real vulnerability in Crimea and southern Ukraine. He needs to keep his troops supplied there. Ukraine can make that supply route much less efficient and thereby hinder Russian military operations.

CHANG: I mean, I'm listening to you talk, Greg. But I remember last year at this time, we were hearing all about a planned Ukrainian offensive. But it achieved far less than was expected or at least advertised, right? So how should we interpret today's announcement?

MYRE: Well, John Herbst says these U.S. weapons are important. They may not completely change the trajectory of the war. They will give Ukraine the resources needed to keep fighting this year. And he said the gridlock in the U.S. Congress had raised questions about whether the U.S. was prepared to keep leading this effort in Ukraine.

HERBST: You've had this extraordinary spectacle over the last several months of leaders coming from Europe and recently from Japan and other places pleading with the United States to act as the leader of the free world. Unprecedented since the end of World War II. Not a good look for the United States.

MYRE: And he says Ukraine lost soldiers and lost ground over the past six months while this assistance was stuck in Congress, but this package reaffirms the U.S. commitment to Ukraine.

CHANG: OK. And this package, it also includes assistance for both Israel and for Gaza, right? Real quick.

MYRE: That's right. Biden said his support for Israel remains ironclad and he's sending Israel more air defense weapons. He cited the recent air attacks from Iran. The U.S. will also be sending $1 billion more in humanitarian aid to Gaza. He said this will be sent as soon as possible and that it must reach the Palestinians there without delay.

CHANG: That is NPR's Greg Myre. Thank you so much, Greg.

MYRE: Sure thing, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Politics
Greg Myre
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.