As Russia intensifies its pounding artillery bombardment in eastern Ukraine, President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that the U.S. would send another $1 billion in U.S. military aid to the war-torn country. Artillery, rocket systems, coastal defense weapons and ammunition will be part of the latest arms package, which Ukrainian officials have pleaded for amidst Moscow’s attack.
Ukrainian forces will, for the first time, receive two vehicle-mounted Harpoon anti-ship missiles, which Kyiv hopes will help push away an estimated 20 Russian warships currently blockading their Black Sea ports. The land-based weapon could enable Ukraine, one of the largest grain providers in the world, to resume its supply of food to parts of the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
Despite Ukraine’s urgent need, however, the Harpoons won’t reach the battlefield for several months, U.S. officials told reporters at the Pentagon Wednesday. In order for Ukrainian forces to use the weapon, the Pentagon will first have to procure Harpoon launchers, while European allies will prepare to send missiles and other equipment. After that, Ukrainian troops will go through a weeks-long training course outside of Ukraine at other European military bases on how to operate the systems—just as they do with other high-end, American-made arms.
The cumbersome process has frustrated Ukrainian leaders who say the weapons are taking too long to flow to the front lines. Speeding up delivery is critical particularly at this latest stage of the nearly four-month long fight with Russia, officials on both sides of the Atlantic say. Over the last several weeks, Russian forces have captured new territory in Ukraine’s eastern industrial Donbas area as the grinding conflict takes a turn in Moscow’s favor.
“The losses, unfortunately, are painful. But we have to hold on. This is our state,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Tuesday in his nightly address. “It is vital to hold on there, in Donbas. The more losses the enemy suffers there, the less power they will have to continue the aggression.”
Then, as he does nearly every night, he appealed to the West to deliver more weapons, more quickly, to urgently defend against the Russian adversary that outnumbers and outguns his nation. “Delay with its provision cannot be justified,” he said. “I will constantly emphasize this when talking to our partners.”
Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said in a televised address Tuesday that military forces have received only 10% of military assistance requested from Western allies. The weapons are key to turning the course of the war, which has become an artillery duel. Malyar explained Ukraine fires 5,000 to 6,000 artillery rounds a day—while Russia fires 10 times as many. “No matter how much effort Ukraine makes, no matter how professional our army, without the help of Western partners we will not be able to win this war,” Malyar said.
The U.S. plans to send 18 additional M777 Howitzers and 36,000 rounds of 150 millimeter ammunition to go with them, but it is unclear whether they will get their soon enough. “We’re likely to be in this phase for a while, the Russian gains continue to be incremental,” a senior administration official told reporters Wednesday. “And we believe that when these capabilities do arrive, they will make a significant difference and that they will arrive in time to do so.”
Russian forces are now wresting control of the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk and have cut off exit routes for thousands of civilians inside. Getting increased firepower is essential to blunt Russia’s advance, Zelensky told fellow Ukrainians, and determine “who will dominate in the coming weeks.” At least 4,452 civilians, including more than 200 children, have been killed in Ukraine since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Feb. 24 invasion, according to the United Nations human rights office, though the agency acknowledges the real death toll is likely much higher.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaking at a news conference in Brussels Wednesday, where more than 45 nations have convened to discuss support for Ukraine, said the U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies are working together to get Ukraine what it needs. “We have on a number of occasions gone down line by line what they need that is relevant in this fight,” Austin said. “So we feel pretty confident that we’re working hard to give them what they think is relevant.”
Austin, a retired four-star Army general, who was standing next to U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Mark Milley, offered his personal reflection on the Ukrainian military’s feelings about the lack of weaponry. “General Milley and I have been in a number of fights,” he said. “And when you’re in a fight, you can never get enough.”
Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but the Biden Administration has incrementally expanded the quality and numbers of arms they are willing to provide Kyiv since the war began. The U.S. has now provided Ukraine with more than $6 billion in military aid since Biden took office last year. In many cases, the weaponry is much more advanced than the Soviet-era systems that makes up Ukraine’s existing arsenal. It requires intensive operational and maintenance training—and even then, front-line troops may not feel as comfortable using the fresh equipment.
On June 1, the Biden Administration announced it would send four High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) that would roughly double the range of the current artillery pieces the Ukrainians are using. HIMARS takes several weeks of training, however, and the weapon is not expected to arrive to the frontlines—at the earliest—until the end of June.