WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday passed 86-11 a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine that will enable the Biden administration to transfer more advanced, high-end weapons systems to counter Russia.
The bulk of the funding in the pipeline — $34.7 billion — is allocated toward Ukrainian military aid and marks the largest tranche yet from Congress. Much of that money is likely to go toward providing Kyiv with major weapons systems Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has sought to more effectively counter Russia as the conflict transitions into a war of attrition in Ukraine’s south and east.
“We are looking at additional high-end systems that would provide new capabilities,” Jessica Lewis, the assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week. “Some of those of course require training, and we need to make sure there’s time to do that as well.”
Lewis declined to identify specific systems the Biden administration intends to transfer with the funds, but Zelenskyy has relayed specific requests to the flurry of U.S. lawmakers who have visited Ukraine in recent weeks.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., both met with Zelenskyy on separate trips and subsequently told Defense News he now seeks long-range rocket artillery, more sophisticated drones and anti-ship systems.
Barrasso and three other Republican senators led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., met with Zelenskyy in Ukraine last week while Crow joined a separate delegation last month led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
“We have to evolve the Ukrainian military into the future fight, which is going to look different in the south and the east,” said Crow.
The supplemental aid package contains $11 billion in funding to allow President Biden to transfer big-ticket military equipment to Ukraine via presidential drawdown authority — his preferred means so far to quickly provide assistance to the Ukrainian military. The massive supplemental also includes $8.7 billion to backfill stocks of items like Javelin anti-tank and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles that have already been sent to Ukraine under drawdown authority.
Biden is expected to soon sign the bipartisan supplemental bill, which the House passed 368-57 last week, into law.
Pelosi and Crow relayed Zelenskyy’s weapon requests to Biden and Defense Department officials during a meeting at the White House last week.
Crow said multiple launch rocket systems would help defend major Ukrainian metropolitan centers from Russian advances while bolstering offensive operations in Donbas and Luhansk.
He also noted Zelenskyy has asked for “more sophisticated intelligence and surveillance drones as well as attack drones that can be reused multiple times instead of the Kamikaze drones we’ve given them.”
The U.S. so far has provided Ukraine with small Switchblade drones, which are piloted by operators up to several miles away and can loiter in the air before attacking their targets. Ukraine is now seeking longer-range drones with precision-strike munitions that can be rearmed multiple times.
Ukraine also wants Harpoon anti-ship missiles, which Crow said would help keep the Russian Navy at bay and prevent them from attacking the shoreline.”
Barrasso said anti-ship missiles would allow the Ukrainians to remove the naval mines they’ve placed that are blocking off the key port of Odessa.
“Because it’s mined, you can’t get all the grain out,” Barrasso told Defense News. “Zelenskyy and others have pointed out that if they have the anti-ship weaponry they can take mines out of the harbor so the boats and the ships can get out.”
The package Congress passed includes $100 million in demining funds, which the Ukrainians can use in Odessa and elsewhere.
The Defense Department’s Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative is also set to get a $6 billion boost to provide equipment, supplies and logistical support to the Ukrainian military after Biden quickly exhausted the $300 million Congress provided for the fund in March.
The legislation gives Ukraine and NATO’s eastern flank countries access to $4 billion in Foreign Military Financing — grants that help countries purchase equipment from U.S. defense manufacturers.
Another $3.9 billion will fund U.S. forces stationed in Europe, including the deployment of a Patriot missile battery. And the legislation will set aside $500 million to replenish the U.S. critical munitions stockpile and $600 million to expedite missile production and expand domestic access to critical minerals via the Defense Production Act.
Finally, the bill requires the inspectors general for the Pentagon and State Department to oversee the Ukraine aid funds.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.