White House freezes Ukraine military package that includes lethal weapons

But National Security Council officials finally put the proposal on hold after Russia announced it would withdraw troops stationed near Ukraine and ahead of President Joe Biden’s high-level summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

One of the sources said the package was still intact and could be sent to Ukraine quickly. The Washington Post reported first which the administration has considered and has now frozen the package. The fact that National Security Council officials have frozen the aid and the specific weapons discussed for inclusion in the aid package was not previously reported.

Some of the key items being considered for the package include short-range air defense systems, small arms and other anti-tank weapons, according to two people who are familiar with the discussions.

in the an opinion after the publication of this articleWhite House spokeswoman Jen Psaki criticized the characterization of a lack of aid to Ukraine: “The idea that we have withheld security aid to Ukraine is nonsense. Just last week – ahead of the US-Russia summit – we provided a package of $ 150 million in security aid, including lethal aid. ”

The White House statement also acknowledged that additional security aid has been provided, but that it depends on Russia crossing territorial red lines: “We have also prepared emergency funds in the event of another Russian invasion of Ukraine. As President Biden told President Putin directly, we will unshakably stand for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. “

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 and annexed Crimea, the United States has provided around $ 2.5 billion in military aid to Kiev, including unarmed drones, radios and Javelin anti-tank missiles.

The latest proposal came after Russia deployed more than 100,000 soldiers, as well as missile battalions and heavy tank units, near the Ukrainian border this spring. according to estimates. At the end of April, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that it would withdraw some of the troops.

Past discussions about deadly military aid to Ukraine have been politically tense, amid concerns about provoking Russia, problems with the training of the Ukrainian armed forces themselves, and continued unease over corruption in the Ukrainian government and military.

But despite Russia’s announcement, a senior Ukrainian official said in May that there are still around 100,000 Russian soldiers near its border and in Crimea. Al Jazeera reports. That same month, Biden officials told the New York Times that the number was closer to 80,000.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced in May that Moscow was building 20 new military units to be deployed in western Russia near the Ukrainian border next year.

Satellite images taken by Maxar in May and June of this year show that hundreds of trucks and other heavy equipment are stationed in newly built makeshift bases in western Russia and on a large training ground in Crimea.

“The reason they left these units is because they said they intend to use them in Zapad in 2021,” said Michael Kofman, director of Russia studies at CNA., Every few years with Belarus, a major military exercise with Belarus. Moscow had already transported heavy tanks, missile units and other equipment from their home bases in central Russia, “and they did not want to drag them back. That was their argument and we’ll see, ”added Kofman. The last Zapad exercise took place in 2017, the next one is scheduled for September.

The photos show fully equipped vehicle fleets near the western Russian city of Voronezh and the Opuk training center in Crimea.

The rapid build-up alerted the Biden government and European allies as the extent of Russian maneuvers – heavy tanks, reserve forces, a field hospital, and kitchens shipped from bases hundreds of miles away – gave the impression of an operational and operational force. The build-up was bigger than the 2014 invasion of Ukraine.

The vehicles and equipment near the city of Voronezh belong in part to the 41st Combined Arms Army, a modernized unit that includes mobile infantry units, missile brigades and heavy artillery units.

Kofman said the area around the border was occupied by units with “fairly high levels of readiness and much more modern equipment” than in previous years.

American aid to Ukraine has been scrutinized intensively in the past. In 2019, Trump tried to block the delivery of lethal aid to Ukraine in an attempt to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi to announce an investigation into Biden’s son. Zelenskyi made no such announcement, and the raid sparked Trump’s first impeachment. At that time, the Democrats in Congress loudly emphasized the importance of US support for the war-weary country.

This year alone, the Pentagon approved two aid packages for Ukraine totaling $ 275 million. The first, in March, added two more armed Mark VI patrol boats to the Ukrainian fleet, part of a larger $ 600 million deal for 16 of the boats signed in 2020.

The package contained 32 Seahawk A2 gun systems and dozen of 30mm cannons for the shallow water boats that give them offensive power.

Another US $ 150 million package approved by Congress was approved in June. It does not appear to include lethal aid, but instead to deliver multiple radar systems to track artillery shells and drones, which have played a major role in the fighting in eastern Ukraine in recent years.

Despite military aid and the presence of NATO forces in the country to train Ukrainian military units, Kiev likely has a long way to go before joining the transatlantic alliance.

But the positive noises the alliance makes can sometimes lead to uncomfortable moments.

During the NATO summit on Monday, Zelenskyi tweeted that NATO leaders had “confirmed” his country’s membership and read the standard language in the annual notice as confirmation of his country’s status.

When asked about the country’s admission status, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stepped on the brakes at a press conference on Tuesday. “Ukraine is an emerging country,” said Stoltenberg. “We support them in particular in the further modernization and further development of their defense and security institutions, the civil-political control of their security services and, last but not least, the fight against corruption.”

Biden also maintained the traditional NATO line during his own post-summit press conference, saying the US would “do everything possible to enable Ukraine to continue to withstand Russian physical aggression”.

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