French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi arrived Thursday in Kyiv in a show of support to Ukraine amid its battle to fend off a Russian invasion.
“It’s an important moment,” said Macron. “It’s a message of unity we’re sending to the Ukrainians.”
The trip comes as the European Commission considers whether to recommend Ukraine be granted candidate status for EU membership.
While in Kyiv, Macron, Scholz and Draghi are expected to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The United States announced Wednesday it is sending $1 billion more in military aid to Ukraine, Washington’s 12th and biggest tranche yet of weaponry and equipment intended to confront Russia’s slow but relentless advance on Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters at the White House the aid includes $350 million of equipment coming directly from the U.S. military, including 18 high-powered mobile long-range howitzers, 36,000 rounds of ammunition and 18 tactical vehicles to tow the howitzers, along with additional ammunition and other equipment.
Kirby said the remaining $650 million in aid, including coastal defense systems, radios, night vision devices and other equipment, will be purchased by the Pentagon from weapons manufacturers through a funding mechanism known as the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.
Kirby said the United States has provided more than $914 million in humanitarian assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the invasion on Feb. 24, including an additional $225 million announced Wednesday by President Joe Biden. The president said in a statement the new money will fund safe drinking water, critical medical supplies and health care, food, shelter, and cash for families to purchase essential items.
“The bravery, resilience, and determination of the Ukrainian people continues to inspire the world,” Biden said. “And the United States, together with our allies and partners, will not waver in our commitment to the Ukrainian people as they fight for their freedom.”
The aid announcement came as U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met in Brussels with allied defense ministers from more than 45 countries that have been supplying armaments to Ukraine’s forces. Russia is attempting to take full control of eastern Ukraine after failing earlier in the 3½-month invasion to topple Zelenskyy’s government or capture the capital, Kyiv.
Opening the talks with the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, Austin said Western allies remain “committed to do even more” to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia’s invasion at what he characterized as a “critical moment on the battlefield.”
Austin said Kyiv’s forces have “inspired us all and need us all” to supply more weaponry as battles rage in the Donbas region.
He said Russia is continuing to “indiscriminately bombard Ukraine,” and is a “menace to European security” that continues to draw “global outrage.”
Even before Biden’s announcement of new military assistance, the United States and its allies supporting Ukraine had sent billions of dollars of weaponry and ammunition to assist Ukraine’s fighters.
“We’ve got a lot done,” Austin said, but now need to “deepen our support for Ukraine” to prove to Moscow “that might does not make right.”
“We must intensify our shared commitment to Ukraine’s self-defense, and we must push ourselves even harder to ensure that Ukraine can defend itself, its citizens and its territory,” he said.
U.S. General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provided a grim assessment of the current battlefield situation on the sidelines of the Brussels conference, telling reporters that the Ukrainian military is suffering as many as 300 casualties a day, including 100 soldiers killed in action and between 100 to 300 wounded.
“For Ukraine, this is an existential threat,” Milley said. “They’re fighting for the very life of their country. So, your ability to endure suffering, your ability to endure casualties is directly proportional to the object to be obtained.”
Ukraine has continued to push for more military aid and to get it to the front lines more quickly, as its forces face daunting odds in the Donbas region.
Representative Adam Smith, chairman of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, told members of the Defense Writers Group, “We need to be giving more sophisticated systems, particularly when it comes to drones and long-range artillery. I don’t think we have been fast enough to get the Ukrainians the drones we have available.”
He added, “The way the fight is playing out right now, certainly, the Russians have more artillery. The Russians right now have better ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance). They have better drones going out and seeing Ukrainian artillery positions. The Ukrainians don’t have that same visibility.”
Despite Russian claims of targeting and hitting Western weapon deliveries, Smith said, “We are still capable of getting a lot of weapons into Ukraine, and we’re seeing them being used in the battlefield.”
Other U.S. officials also downplayed the Russian assertions.
“We have not seen a lot of evidence of the Russian claims,” a senior U.S. defense official told reporters late Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss sensitive details.
But while the official dismissed concerns about recent Russian gains, he expressed confidence that the badly needed assistance would reach Ukraine in time to make “a significant difference.”
“We’re likely to be in this phase for a while. The Russian gains continue to be incremental.”
A virtual meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group last month drew representatives from nearly 50 nations and pledges of new aid packages. Ukrainian officials, who joined the talks in Brussels, continue to urge international partners to send more weapons, especially heavy artillery, to help Ukrainian forces match up against Russia.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters that alliance defense ministers would meet late Wednesday with Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov and get an update on “what Ukraine urgently needs.”
Amid comments by Ukrainian officials that not enough military aid has come and it has not come quickly enough, Stoltenberg said such efforts take time. He said NATO leaders realize the urgency and are working with Ukraine to overcome hurdles.
Russian forces are pushing to gain full control of the eastern industrial city of Sievierodonetsk, located in the Donbas region that Russia has declared to be the main focus of its operation in Ukraine.
National security correspondent Jeff Seldin and White House correspondent Anita Powell contributed to this report. Some material came from Reuters, The Associated Press, and Agence France-Presse.