War aid shifts to long haul

WASHINGTON — As Russia’s war on Ukraine drags on, U.S. security assistance is shifting to a longer-term campaign that will likely keep more American military troops in Europe into the future, including imminent plans to announce an additional roughly $3 billion in aid to train and equip Ukrainian forces to fight for years to come, U.S. officials said.

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U.S. officials told The Associated Press that the package is expected to be announced today, the day the war hits the six-month mark and Ukraine celebrates its independence day. The money will fund contracts for as many as three types of drones, and other weapons, ammunition and equipment that may not see the battlefront for a year or two, they said.

The total of the aid package — which is being provided under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative and is the largest to date– could change a bit overnight, but not likely by much. Officials said it will include money for the small, hand-launched Puma drones, the longer-endurance Scan Eagle surveillance drones, which are launched by catapult, and, for the first time, the British Vampire drone system, which can be launched off ships.

Several officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the aid before its public release.

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Unlike most previous packages, the new funding is largely aimed at helping Ukraine secure its medium- to long-term defense posture, according to the officials familiar with the matter. Earlier shipments, most of them done under Presidential Drawdown Authority, have focused on Ukraine’s more immediate needs for weapons and ammunition and involved materiel that the Pentagon already has in stock that can be shipped in short order.

In addition to providing longer-term assistance that Ukraine can use for potential future defense needs, the new package is intended to reassure Ukrainian officials that the United States intends to keep up its support, regardless of the day-to-day back and forth of the conflict, the officials said.

Other NATO allies are also marking the independence day with new aid announcements.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said his country is providing nearly $500 million in aid, including powerful anti-aircraft systems. The aid will also include rocket launchers, ammunition, anti-drone equipment, a dozen armored recovery vehicles and and three additional IRIS-T long-range air defense systems, the German news agency dpa reported.

The funding must still be approved by parliament, and some of it won’t be delivered until next year.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $3.85 million for two Ukraine projects through the Peace and Stabilization Operations Program. It includes about $2.9 million in funding for ongoing development of Ukraine’s national police force and other emergency services, and about $950,000 to help advise Ukraine’s defense ministry.

To date, the U.S. has provided about $10.6 billion in military aid to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration, including 19 packages of weapons taken directly from Defense Department stocks since August 2021.

U.S. defense leaders are also considering plans that will expand training for Ukrainian troops outside their country, and for militaries on Europe’s eastern and southern flanks that feel most threatened by Russia’s aggression.

FEAR IN AIR

Meanwhile, the sense of dread deepened Tuesday in Ukraine because of warnings that Russia may try to spoil the country’s Independence Day holiday and mark the war’s six-month point with intensified attacks.

Late Monday, the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine and the State Department issued a new security alert for Ukraine that repeated a call for Americans in the country to leave. Several European countries issued similar warnings.

“Given Russia’s track record in Ukraine, we are concerned about the continued threat that Russian strikes pose to civilians and civilian infrastructure,” it said.

Kyiv authorities banned mass gatherings in the capital through Thursday for fear of missile attacks around Independence Day.

“Our country is having a very hard time, and we need to be careful,” 26-year-old Vlad Mudrak said in support of the ban.

Over the weekend, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that Russia “may try to do something particularly nasty, something particularly cruel” this week.

On Tuesday, however, Zelenskyy stressed defiance rather than worry when he raised the national flag at a memorial one day ahead of Independence Day.

“The blue and yellow flag of Ukraine will again fly where it rightfully should be — in all temporarily occupied cities and villages of Ukraine,” he said, including the Crimea Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014.

He added: “It is necessary to liberate Crimea from occupation. It will end where it had started.”

At a separate event, Zelenskyy appeared to downplay the threats this week, indicating that at most, he expected increased intensity rather than new targets, and he added, “No one wants to die, but no one is afraid of Russia, and this is the most important signal.”

NATO, meanwhile, said Zelenskyy can continue to count on the 30-nation alliance for help in defending itself in what Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called “a grinding war of attrition.” The war broke out on Feb. 24.

“Winter is coming, and it will be hard, and what we see now is a grinding war of attrition. This is a battle of wills, and a battle of logistics. Therefore we must sustain our support for Ukraine for the long term, so that Ukraine prevails as a sovereign, independent nation,” Stoltenberg said, speaking at a virtual conference about Crimea, organized by Ukraine.

Six months after Russia invaded, the war has slowed to a grind, as both sides trade combat strikes and small advances in the east and south. Both sides have seen thousands of troops killed and injured, as Russia’s bombardment of cities has killed countless innocent civilians.

One particular source of foreboding is Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, in southeastern Ukraine, where shelling has raised fears of a catastrophe.

Shelling close to the Zaporizhzhia plant continued early Tuesday. Regional Gov. Valentyn Reznichenko said Russian forces fired on Marhanets and Nikopol, two towns less than 7 miles from the power station.

The U.N. Security Council met Tuesday to discuss the danger, and the U.N. nuclear agency renewed its request to assess safety and security at the plant if Ukraine and Russia agree.

Another source of concern is the fate of Ukrainian prisoners of war.

Michelle Bachelet, U.N. high commissioner for human rights, cited reports that Russia and its separatist allies in eastern Ukraine are planning to put Ukrainian prisoners of war on trial, possibly in the coming days. The Kremlin has denounced Ukrainian prisoners as Nazis, war criminals and terrorists, and several prisoners have been sentenced to death.

In the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, Russian authorities reported four people were killed and nearly a dozen wounded in Ukrainian shelling of a separatist headquarters and other buildings.

Information for this article was contributed by Lolita C. Baldor, Matthew Lee, Lorne Cook, Paul Byrne and Derek Gatopoulos of The Associated Press.

    In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy stands in front of lined up soldiers as he arrives for State Flag Day celebrations in Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
 
 
    FILE – U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Cody Brown, right, with the 436th Aerial Port Squadron, checks pallets of 155 mm shells ultimately bound for Ukraine, April 29, 2022, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. U.S. officials say that as Russia’s war on Ukraine drags on, U.S. security assistance is shifting to a longer-term campaign that will likely keep more American military troops in Europe into the future. They say a new aid package to be announced includes an additional roughly $3 billion to train and equip Ukrainian forces to fight for years to come. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
 
 

 Gallery: Images from Ukraine, month 6

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