By Andrea Shalal and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States said on Saturday it would deliver up to $200 million worth of additional small, anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to Ukraine, as Ukrainian officials called for more equipment to defend against heavy shelling by Russian forces.
President Joe Biden authorized the additional security assistance on Saturday, the White House said, paving the way for the “immediate” shipment of new military equipment to Ukraine, a senior administration official said.
Biden’s decision brings total US security aid provided to Ukraine to $1.2 billion since January 2021 and to $3.2 billion since 2014, when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region, according to senior administration officials.
In a memo to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Biden directed that up to $200 million be appropriated through the Foreign Assistance Act for the defense of Ukraine.
Blinken said he had authorized a fourth drawdown of US defense stocks, in accordance with Biden’s directive, “to help Ukraine deal with the armor, air and other threats it faces” as the war entered. in its third week.
He praised the “great skill, iron will and profound courage” shown by the Ukrainian military and citizens, saying the United States will also continue to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need.
“The United States and our allies and partners stand in solidarity with the people and government of Ukraine in the face of Kremlin aggression,” he said in a statement. “The international community is united and determined to hold (Russian President Vladimir) Putin accountable.”
Russia says it is involved in a “special military operation” that it says is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy its neighbor’s military capabilities and “denazify” Ukraine.
The funds “will provide immediate military assistance to Ukraine, including anti-armour, anti-aircraft and small arms systems in support of Ukraine’s front-line defenders,” one of the US officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Ukraine has been calling for more Javelin anti-tank weapons and Stinger missiles to shoot down planes.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Saturday underscored Ukraine’s need for additional military supplies in an interview with the non-profit initiative Renew Democracy.
The United States has drawn on American arms stockpiles to supply Ukraine repeatedly, beginning in the fall of 2021 and then again in December and February.
The last batch of US weapons provided in February included armor plating, small arms, bulletproof vests and various ammunition, according to the Pentagon, as well as anti-aircraft systems.
On Thursday night, the US Congress approved $13.6 billion in emergency aid for Ukraine as part of a $1.5 trillion measure to fund the US government through September.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Steve Holland; Editing by Alistair Bell, Grant McCool and Daniel Wallis)