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New Ukraine military package is largest yet, Pentagon says

By Karoun Demirjian Washington Post

The Pentagon on Monday said it is sending Ukraine an additional $1 billion in military assistance, including tens of thousands more munitions and explosives – the largest such package since Russia launched its invasion in February.

The announcement comes as Ukrainian forces undertake a counteroffensive aimed at reclaiming the southern city of Kherson. The operation is seen in Kyiv and in Washington as a vital bid to prevent the Kremlin from making good on its vow to absorb occupied territories via planned referendums. Senior U.S. officials have denounced Moscow’s annexation plan as a “sham.”

The new security assistance package includes ammunition for the high-mobility artillery rocket systems known as HIMARS and 75,000 howitzer rounds, as well as mortar systems, surface-to-air missiles, Javelin anti-armor missiles, Claymore mines and demolition explosives. It pushes the total U.S. military support for Ukraine past $9 billion since the war began, officials said.

“These are all critical capabilities to help the Ukrainians repel the Russian offensive in the east and also to address evolving developments in the south and elsewhere,” said Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl. He characterized the package as comprising the types of weaponry “the Ukrainian people are using so effectively to defend their country.”

Kahl said the Russian military has encountered considerable setbacks as a result of U.S. efforts to arm and equip Ukraine, indicating its forces have suffered an estimated 70,000 to 80,000 casualties in the past six months. The figure includes personnel killed and wounded, he said.

But the counteroffensive in Kherson will probably be a challenge for Ukrainian forces.

The government in Kyiv has signaled for weeks that it intends to move on the city, which before the invasion was home to approximately 300,000. And while the Ukrainians’ efforts have already helped recover some nearby villages, Russian units have taken notice, said Dmitry Gorenburg, a senior research scientist at the think tank CNA and an expert on the Russian military.

It remains to be seen, he added, whether Washington’s latest arms transfer will prove sufficient to enable the Ukrainians to achieve their immediate objectives.

“The Russians have redeployed a lot of defenses … in that area,” Gorenburg said. “Kherson is a large city. And the same problems of attacking a large city that the Russians faced in the early stages of their attack, the Ukrainians would face if the Russians chose to defend it.”

While the influx of munitions and antitank systems in Monday’s aid package are “good for stopping offensives,” Gorenburg said, “it’s not necessarily going to be as useful if you’ve got a bunch of infantry dug in.”

In Ukraine, the sense of urgency is dire, officials say. President Volodymyr Zelensky told members of Congress late last month that his military had only a few weeks to change the course of the war – a timeline driven in part by Russia’s threat to annex parts of occupied Ukraine as soon as next month and by the knowledge that the operation would become exponentially more complicated if it drags into the winter.

Ukrainian leaders have pleaded with the West for more HIMARS, which along with other sophisticated weapons systems have enabled them to destroy Russian command posts, ammunition depots, air-defense sites, radar and communication nodes, and long-range artillery positions. To date, they have received 16 U.S.-produced systems, three British-made equivalents, and a promise from Germany that another three will be delivered, according to Kahl.

Zelensky’s top advisers have said they need dozens more if Ukraine is to drive back the Russian advance. When asked Monday if the absence of additional HIMARS was an indication that the United States was running low on its stock of the systems, Kahl declined to answer directly.

The weapons, he said, have been “very effective in hitting things” while making it “more difficult for Russia to move forces around the battlefield.” The Pentagon, Kahl added, is committed to “delivering weapons from the United States’ stocks when they are available.”

Though the long-range precision capabilities of HIMARS are not particularly suited to the close-range combat of a slow-moving counteroffensive, they have been useful in keeping Russian logistics – the weak underbelly that crippled its effort to sack Kyiv early in the war – on the back foot, experts say. By targeting Russian munitions depots within occupied parts of Ukraine, HIMARS strikes have made it more complicated for Russia to resupply its own front lines, causing “havoc in the supply lines” that could provide Ukraine with openings to make additional gains, Gorenburg said.

But the Ukrainian military has to be ready to take advantage of such opportunities, he said. Though Western governments have steadily pledged military assistance to Ukraine, in many cases the promised munitions have been slow to reach the front lines.

According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, as of July 1, the United States and Germany had delivered less than half of the military aid announced for Ukraine. (The institute said it plans to update its figures this month.)

But Zelensky wants his benefactors to do more than provide arms to help his country stave off the threat of annexation, a looming fate made more real Monday when the Russian-appointed head of the occupation administration in Zaporizhzhia signed a decree to move forward with a Sept. 11 referendum.

In an interview, Zelensky told The Washington Post that the United States and its allies should take the unprecedented step of banning all Russian travelers from their countries.

“The most important sanctions are to close the borders – because the Russians are taking away someone else’s land,” Zelensky said. Russians should “live in their own world,” he added, “until they change their philosophy.”