- Russia renewed its attack on Ukraine this week, focusing on eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region.
- The offensive comes as Western countries supply more and heavier weaponry to Ukrainian forces.
- A European official said “the envelope” of what countries are willing to give Ukraine “has grown considerably.”
Russia began a new phase of its attack on Ukraine on Monday, focusing on eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region.
The renewed fighting comes as Western countries are providing more and heavier weaponry to Ukraine, arming it for what may be months of intense clashes involving tanks and long-range weapons in the region’s flatter, more open terrain.
The US announced its latest package of security assistance to Ukraine on April 13, providing $800 million worth of equipment —including hundreds of armored vehicles and more Mi-17 helicopters — and weapons, such as unmanned coastal defense vessels, counter-artillery and air-defense radars, and more Switchblade drones.
The package also contained 18 155mm howitzers and 40,000 artillery rounds, which were provided for the first time in light of “the kind of fighting that the Ukrainians” expect in the “more confined geographic area” around Donbas, chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on April 13.
The Ukrainians “specifically asked” for “artillery support,” Kirby said, and this week US troops began training Ukrainians on the howitzers, which differ from the 152mm howitzers used by Ukraine’s military.
After the weeklong training, those Ukrainians will return home and train more of their countrymen, a senior US defense official said Wednesday.
Throughout April, other European countries have said they would provide additional heavy-duty weapons — including tanks, sophisticated air-defense missiles, and coastal defense systems — reflecting an increasing willingness to provide Ukraine with such armaments after two months of defending against Russian attacks.
Ukrainians have “proven that they’re willing to fight and they’re able to,” said Jim Townsend, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, “but I think what’s really behind this latest push is the type of warfare that they’re going to be dealing with now in the east is different than what they’ve been facing in the Kyiv area.”
The US has provided roughly $2.6 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since Russia’s attack began on February 24. The UK has also provided nearly a billion dollars’ worth of financial and military aid since the war started.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for the UK’s “decisive and significant support” during Johnson’s April 9 visit to Kyiv, where Johnson announced additional assistance, including 120 armored vehicles and “new anti-ship missile systems.” The UK has already provided thousands of anti-armor and anti-aircraft missiles.
In the days before Johnson’s trip, the Czech Republic sent tanks, multiple rocket launchers, howitzers, and infantry fighting vehicles, and Slovakia donated its S-300 system, becoming the first to provide that kind of long-range anti-aircraft weapon. More recently, the Netherlands said it would send “heavier materiel” to Ukraine, “including armoured vehicles.”
On April 8, a European official said “the envelope” of military assistance that countries were willing to give Ukraine “has grown considerably over the last few weeks.”
“We were clearly very quickly in a different place once the Ukrainians were able to hold off the first few days, and I think since then we’ve had a bit more time to really think about this and to think slightly further ahead,” the European official told reporters in Washington, DC.
Other countries still limit what they will provide and are wary of discussing it out of concern for Russia’s reaction.
France’s top military officer said in March that it was important “to remain as unobtrusive as possible” and not to “overplay” support for Ukraine.
Germany’s foreign minister said Wednesday that Berlin had provided anti-armor and anti-aircraft missiles but had “never spoken” about it publicly “so these deliveries could happen quickly.” (Berlin initially refused to send any arms to Ukraine and still declines to send heavy weapons.)
“Some of the nations who are contributing are pretty coy about it,” the European official said, “because they’re worried about retribution.”
Moscow has said it considers providing aid to be involvement in the war, but Kirby said Tuesday that US officials have seen “no indications” that aid shipments “have been hit or deterred” by the Russians.
‘Better and pricklier’
Kirby has said US-provided assistance, much of it from US stockpiles, is arriving “incredibly fast,” often within days of authorization. US officials say those packages are devised in coordination with Ukrainian officials.
National security advisor Jake Sullivan said last week that he and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Ukrainian defense leaders went “item-by-item through their list” while developing the latest package and that President Joe Biden had “an extremely positive conversation” with Zelenskyy about what was included.
The US has stopped short of providing some weaponry, such as combat aircraft, and other forms of support, such as a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
That approach has been called prudent in light of the risk of escalation, but Ukrainians and other European officials have called for more.
If Ukraine had gotten “access to all the weapons we need,” Zelenskyy said Tuesday, “we would have already ended this war.”
Another security assistance package similar to the most recent one is reportedly being developed, and that aid should keep flowing, according to Townsend, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy.
“They’ll need a lot more ammunition, for instance. They’ll need more artillery, more tanks,” Townsend told Insider, saying the looming fight would be a “war of attrition.”
“When it’s a battle of attrition, they’re going to run out of things,” Townsend said, “so they’ll need to be resupplied quite a bit.”
The European official, speaking on April 8, said discussions about security assistance still focus on what Ukraine needs to “fight tonight” but are also looking at “how we might support Ukraine in rebuilding and modernizing its armed forces to make them even better and pricklier than they’d been in the past.”
Ukraine needs “continued supply of all kinds of equipment,” Ukraine’s ambassador to the US, Oksana Markarova, said Monday. “We always say we need more because the enemy is so much bigger and because the enemy is so brutal and the enemy doesn’t stop, but we are very grateful, very grateful for all the support.”