NATIONAL NEWS

New US aid package for Ukraine will total about $300 million and include munitions for drones

May 30, 2023, 2:53 PM | Updated: 3:46 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.S. military aid package for Ukraine that is expected to be announced this week will total up to $300 million and will include additional munitions for drones, U.S. officials said Tuesday. The drone ammunition comes after new attacks by unmanned aircraft targeted Moscow.

There has been no suggestion that U.S.-made drones or munitions were used in the recent attacks on Moscow, and U.S. officials have repeatedly said that Ukraine has agreed not to use any American-provided weapons for attacks on Russian soil. The Kremlin blamed Kyiv for Tuesday’s attack, but Ukrainian officials had no direct comment.

But the new aid package comes at a tense moment in the war. The latest drone attack on Moscow follows Russia’s seizure of the eastern Ukrainian city Bakhmut after a nine-month battle that killed tens of thousands of people. Ukraine is also showing signs that its long-awaited spring counteroffensive may already be underway.

The Russian Defense Ministry said five drones were shot down in Moscow and the systems of three others were jammed, causing them to veer off course. President Vladimir Putin called it a “terrorist” act by Kyiv.

A U.S. defense official said the drone strikes would not affect the weapons aid packages the U.S. is providing Ukraine, to include drone ammunition. The official said the U.S. has committed to supporting Ukraine in its effort to defend the country and Ukraine had committed to not using the systems inside Russia, so the aid would likely continue unchanged.

All of the U.S. officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the latest aid package has not yet been publicly announced.

U.S. officials did not provide details on the drone munitions in the new aid package or specify which unmanned aircraft would use them. The Defense Department has given Ukraine a variety of unmanned aircraft over the last year, for both surveillance and attacks, including at least two versions of the Switchblade, a so-called kamikaze drone that can loiter in the air and then explode into a target.

Other more sophisticated drones can drop munitions, but the U.S. has been reluctant to publicly share details about those.

Also included in the newest package will be munitions for Patriot missile batteries and the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), Stinger missiles for the Avenger system, mine-clearing equipment, anti-armor rounds, unguided Zuni aircraft rockets, night vision goggles, and about 30 million rounds of small arms ammunition, said the U.S. officials.

The aid greatly resembles other recent U.S. packages, which have focused on providing Ukraine more ammunition for the weapons systems it has and helping it prepare for a counteroffensive to push back against Russian gains over the past year. Ukrainian officials have not formally announced the launch of their much-anticipated counteroffensive, although some say it has already begun and the pace of attacks suggests that it’s underway.

Including the latest aid, the U.S. has committed more than $37.6 billion in weapons and other equipment to Ukraine since Russia attacked on Feb. 24, 2022. This latest package will be done under presidential drawdown authority, which allows the Pentagon to take weapons from its own stocks and quickly ship them to Ukraine, officials said.

Officials said the U.S. is expected to announce the aid as soon as Wednesday.

Tuesday’s strikes on Moscow were the second drone strikes on the city since May 3, when Russian officials said two drones targeted the Kremlin in what they portrayed as an attempt on Putin’s life. Ukraine denied it was behind that attack.

U.S. intelligence officials were still trying to ascertain if Ukraine had any involvement in or prior knowledge of Tuesday’s drone attack in Moscow, according to a U.S. official familiar with the matter who was not authorized to comment and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Last week, the Russian border region of Belgorod was the target of one of the most serious cross-border raids since the war began, with two far-right pro-Ukrainian paramilitary groups claiming responsibility.

The U.S. conveyed after that incident that American-made weaponry must not be used inside Russia, according to a U.S. official familiar with the sensitive communications. The message was “very clearly understood,” according to the official.

Officials in the southern Russian city of Krasnodar, near annexed Crimea, said two drones struck there on Friday, damaging residential buildings. Other drones have reportedly flown deep into Russia multiple times.

Ukrainian military analysts, though unable to confirm Kyiv had launched the drones against Moscow, said the attack may have involved UJ-22 drones, which are produced in Ukraine and have a maximum range of about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles).

U.S. officials struck a delicate balance in responding to the drone strikes, reiterating support for Ukraine while stressing that the U.S. opposes Ukrainians using American weapons in Russia. They noted that Russia’s bombardment of Kyiv on Tuesday was the 17th round of attacks this month, “many of which have devastated civilian areas.”

___

Lee reported from Oslo. Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani and Tara Copp contributed to this report.

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