WASHINGTON — The State Department on Wednesday announced the United States will provide Ukraine a Patriot missile defense system as part of the latest $1.85 billion tranche of military aid for Kyiv to defend against Russia’s invasion.
The announcement came as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has sought the Patriot system for months, landed in Washington for a meeting with President Joe Biden and an address to Congress in his first trip abroad since the war started.
“Today’s assistance for the first time includes the Patriot Air Defense System, capable of bringing down cruise missiles, short-range ballistic missiles and aircraft at a significantly higher ceiling than previously provided air defense systems,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
The aid package includes $1 billion in presidential drawdown authority for Biden to send weapons to Kyiv from existing U.S. stocks, including the Patriot system, and another $850 million for future assistance provided via the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. The Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative allows the Pentagon to contract for new weapons and equipment to Kyiv.
Still, the Biden administration has resisted calls from Zelenskyy and some lawmakers on Capitol Hill to provide Ukraine with long-range missiles and advanced Gray Eagle drones amid concerns about escalating Russia-NATO tensions and fears sensitive U.S. technology could land in Moscow’s hands.
The presidential drawdown package includes additional ammunition for the 20 U.S. High Mobile Artillery Rocket Systems Ukraine already has, 37 Cougar Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles, 120 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles and 2,700 grenade launchers as well as an assortment of other small arms.
The future assistance in the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative package includes additional ammunition as well as SATCOM terminals and services, which allow aircraft to communicate with air traffic control.
The latest announcement brings the total amount of U.S. military aid provided to Ukraine to $21.9 billion since Biden took office.
The new package and Zelenskyy’s visit come as Congress prepares to vote on a $1.7 trillion government funding bill this week that includes $45 billion in emergency military, economic and humanitarian spending for Ukraine — $6.2 billion more than the White House asked for in its November supplemental funding request. Of that $45 billion, $27.9 billion is for the Pentagon to continue the influx of military support for Kyiv.
If Congress passes the bill by the Dec. 23 deadline to avert a government shutdown, it will bring the total amount of Ukraine aid Congress has passed since the war started to more than $100 billion.
More than half of that spending will have gone to the Pentagon for Ukraine aid — $61.4 billion if the government funding bill passes. That includes billions in funding to backfill U.S. munitions sent to Kyiv under presidential drawdown authority.
The spending bill and the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, which Congress passed last week, includes funding for munitions replenishment alongside a series of provisions intended to expedite their production by waiving certain Pentagon contracting restrictions and authorizing the Defense Department to use multiyear contracts.
But a growing contingent of Republicans, many of whom are aligned with former president Donald Trump, have grown increasingly wary of the price tag and have vowed to cut off future U.S. assistance to Ukraine when they take control of the House in two weeks.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California is struggling to muster the votes he needs to become the next speaker and may need to make concessions to the right flank of his caucus, which includes the Ukraine aid skeptics. McCarthy has not committed entirely to cutting off aid to Ukraine, but he vowed in October he would not write a “blank check” for Kyiv.”
Zelenskyy is expected to address this skepticism in his speech to Congress this evening.
“I hope all House Republicans will attend the Zelenskyy address this evening,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor. “And when they do, they should listen to President Zelenskyy describe the horror his people have endured at the hands of [Russian President] Vladimir Putin.”
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.