Zelensky’s weapon wish list was barely fulfilled during his trip to Washington

WASHINGTON — President Volodymyr Zelensky’s triumphant visit to Washington ended with the promise of billions of dollars more in aid to Ukraine, but not what he wanted most: battle tanks, fighter jets and American long-range precision missile.

The United States has repeatedly said that there are weapons that it will not send to Ukraine to counter the invading Russian forces. But the past 10 months of war have shown that the limits of US support have shifted in Ukraine’s favor and Mr. Zelensky can still get what he wants.

After a cheeky 10 hours in the nation’s capital on Wednesday, Mr Zelensky left with nearly $2 billion in new weapons and equipment – as well as a likely commitment from Congress for nearly additional aid. $50 billion next year.

And while Mr. Zelensky didn’t have everything on his wish list, John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said on Thursday that the United States is committed to providing the equipment Ukraine needs, though he declined to provide specifics.

“Any president, any commander-in-chief, under similar circumstances wants you to get as much as possible as quickly as possible, and we are committed to doing our part and help with that.”

However, he added that Mr. Biden and Mr. Zelensky did not spend much of the meeting discussing each of Ukraine’s demands. The discussion was not “driven by a list of additional possibilities. There was a broader, more in-depth discussion about the situation in Ukraine and what the future holds,” he said.

“Rest assured that there will be more possibilities to go to Ukraine,” Mr. Kirby said. “Now, what they are and how many they are, that’s still undetermined.”

Zelensky’s trip is a living testament to his strategy of manipulating and pressuring allies. He appreciates the aid provided by the United States with the growing need for weapons, knowing that he will not get all he wants but believes that the combination of the continued demands of him and changes on the battlefield will prompt Washington to revise its own assessments of what additional systems Ukraine can get without risking a dangerous escalation with Russia.

Ukrainian officials have been broadcasting their top battlefield requests for months, most recently in a tweet labeled “My Christmas Wishlist” from Mykhailo Podolyak, Mr. Zelensky’s advisor.

Mr. Biden approved an item on that list, the Patriot air defense system, on Wednesday. But the authorities have refused to provide or help provide four other types, including battle tanks and long-range missiles.

During a press conference on Thursday, President Vladimir V. Putin downplayed the Patriot’s importance, saying Russia would find a way to defeat it.

“An antidote will always be found,” he said at the Kremlin. “This simply prolongs the conflict — that’s all.”

In some respects, the Biden administration’s risk-taking has increased as the war continues. Some weapons systems that were phased out early in the war, such as the HIMARS rocket artillery and the Patriot missile defense system, have since been approved and are in combat or on the way to deployment.

But some US officials argue that the nature of the war has changed, not the level of risk the White House will take. Ukraine has a greater need for the HIMARS system as the war turns into an artillery battle and Russian command posts retreat from the front lines. The Biden administration decided to send Patriot batteries as Russia began to launch repeated attacks on Ukraine’s electrical infrastructure as winter began.

Both the HIMARS and Patriot systems require trained crews to operate them, so it costs Ukraine to pull experienced soldiers off the front lines to learn how to use them. And the US only wants to do that once it is sure that more sophisticated systems can make a real difference.

Administration officials say the administration’s current banned weapons fall into three basic categories with some overlap.

The first group includes weapons such as long-range missiles called ATACMS, with a range of about 290 miles. The administration fears that if Ukraine is tied up badly enough, it could use missiles to hit targets in Russia, prompting Putin to expand the war.

Asked about the missiles at a joint press conference with Zelensky on Wednesday, Biden warned that sending weapons could disrupt NATO’s unity in backing Ukraine. “They don’t want to go to war with Russia,” he said of the alliance. “They’re not looking for a third world war.”

Some former U.S. commanders dismiss the administration’s rationale for withholding key weapons at this critical point in the war.

Frederick B. Hodges, a retired lieutenant general and former top U.S. military commander in Europe, said: “The administration continues to overestimate the risk of escalation and undervalue intelligence. as well as the creative way of fighting in Ukraine.

The latter includes weapons such as the MQ-1C Gray Eagle and MQ-9 Reaper drones, which advocates say will allow Ukraine to strike a broader range of targets or detect them. for other Ukrainian attacks. But Pentagon officials have expressed concern that if those drones were shot down or crashed, Russia could recover them and exploit their advanced technology.

The third category includes weapons such as Abrams battle tanks and F-16 fighter jets, some of the most advanced weapons in the US arsenal. Pentagon officials say Ukraine already has enough tanks and fighter jets from other countries. More importantly, officials said, these systems take months to learn to use and require complex maintenance, often carried out by civilian contractors, who may not operate safely. entirely in Ukraine.

“These are tough choices,” said Representative Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat who serves on both the House intelligence and armed services committees. He said he was in favor of sending ATACMS and F-16s to Ukraine, but not battle tanks.

Senator Christopher S. Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Ukraine needed more ammunition that the United States could not easily provide.

“We simply don’t have the reserves to supply, nor do we make the ammunition that most of their equipment fires,” Murphy said.

“What Ukraine needs is enough firepower to show Putin the limits of his power,” Murphy said. “Putin will never come to the negotiating table in a meaningful way unless he sees the reality of where his power stops. And that means you probably have to be willing to fund the stalemate for a while.”

Mr. Murphy also acknowledged that the prospect of a divided Congress — Republicans will take control of the House next month, while Democrats will hold a majority in the Senate — supporting Ukraine could be possible. will soon become more difficult.

Mr Murphy said: “Zelensky has always asked for the sky and that is perfectly appropriate, and our job is to make sure his work is nimble enough to meet the moment. “We also have an obligation to taxpayers not to waste money.”

With each new request from Ukraine for another advanced capability, the United States tried to gauge how Putin might respond by looking at the Kremlin’s comments and seeing how Russia responded. in the past when the United States supported its allies and partners in Europe.

One thing above all else has influenced the debate within the administration about which weapons systems to supply to Ukraine: Russia’s restraint in containing the war.

Russia has steadily increased the brutality and scale of its attacks against Ukraine, killing civilians on its way to the capital Kiev, expelling children from occupied areas and now trying to break the will of the Ukrainian people by attacking the electrical infrastructure to engulf the country. cold and dark.

But Moscow has so far not allowed its war to spill over into NATO territory. U.S. officials continue to insist they see nothing to indicate that Russia has decided to expand its attacks beyond Ukraine.

There have been no intensified cyberattacks by Russian intelligence agencies on NATO allies, and there is no evidence that Russia has carried out any destructive attacks on the allies.

Putin’s unwillingness to fight directly with NATO is key to the alliance’s ability to supply Ukraine with a steady stream of weapons and ammunition that has kept Kiev going. Mr. Putin has shown he will accept a high degree of international support for Ukraine, as long as the weapons are used in Ukraine. That’s the key calculation, US officials say: whether Putin will see the weapon system as something to attack Moscow or something for use inside Ukraine.

These US officials say it is important not to give Putin an excuse to expand the war.

Edward King contribution report.


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