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The United States is preparing a major military package for Ukraine

The reluctance is due to logistical and maintenance challenges with the tanks, not fears their transfer could escalate the conflict, one of the US officials said. This person noted that the United States had helped Ukraine obtain Soviet-era tanks and supported the British decision to send a dozen of its Challenger 2 tanks.

The package will likely include a number of Strykers, an eight-wheeled armored fighting vehicle built by General Dynamics Land Systems, as well as ground-launched small-diameter bombs, which have a range of around 100 miles, two of the people. POLITICO first reported last week that the Pentagon was considering sending Strykers in the next aid tranche. Reuters first reported that small-diameter bombs made by Boeing were under discussion.

This package will not include the army’s long-range tactical missile system which can reach deep behind Russian lines in Crimea or Donbass, according to two of the people. The Biden administration has been reluctant to send long-range munitions, despite appeals from Kyiv, for fear of provoking Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The administration believes Ukraine can “change the dynamics on the battlefield” and fend off Russian invaders without these missiles, an offensive weapon that can fly up to 190 miles, said senior Pentagon policy official Colin Kahl. .

“Our judgment to date has been that juice doesn’t really work the pressure on ATACMs. You never know, that judgment could change at some point, but we’re not there yet on ATACMs,” said Kahl told reporters after a trip to Kyiv over the weekend.

The White House has yet to approve the package, which is still being finalized and could change this week. But officials expect an announcement around the regular meeting of the Ukrainian Defense Contact Group at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Friday, where Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff , General Mark Milley, will meet with their counterparts to discuss the new aid to Ukraine.

The latest meeting comes as Kyiv is sounding the alarm that Moscow is preparing to launch another major offensive to take the capital. Ukrainian intelligence officials have warned Kremlin plans further mobilization of up to 500,000 conscriptswhile on Monday, Russia and Belarus began joint military exercises.

Pressed by Kyiv to send heavier weapons in recent weeks, Western nations have dramatically increased their pledges of new armor, aiming to help Ukraine build new armored units for fierce combat this spring and summer. Late last year, the United States and the Netherlands agreed to spend $90 million to upgrade approximately 90 Czech-operated Soviet-era T-72 tanks for shipment to Ukraine. Germany also pledged its Marder infantry fighting vehicle and France its AMX-10 RC, a wheeled system built around a turret-mounted 105mm gun. Canada will also provide 200 Canadian-made personnel carriersDefense Minister Anita Anand announced on Wednesday during her visit to Kyiv.

This month, the United States announced it would send 50 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, a tracked armored vehicle that carries an autocannon, machine gun and TOW missiles. The administration has already supplied thousands of combat vehicles, including Humvees and anti-mine vehicles used to move troops on the battlefield.

In a sign that the United States sees the need as urgent, senior Biden administration officials traveled to Kyiv over the weekend ahead of the meeting in Germany. Jon Finer, the White House deputy national security adviser; Kahl, the undersecretary of defense for policy; and Wendy Sherman, Deputy Secretary of State, met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other senior Ukrainian officials.

“I salute everything the Ukrainian people have done to continue to survive and endure. Frankly, that’s why Putin is going to lose, because his theory of victory is that we are going to give up. @POTUS & @SecDef were clear: we will stay with the Ukrainian people for as long as it takes”, Kahl tweeted after the visit.

But Ukraine still argues for Western tanks in addition to British Challengers. A handful of nations have signaled their willingness to send their German-made battle tanks, but are awaiting a decision from Berlin to give the green light to re-export. Leopards are considered a better option than Abrams due to the large numbers already in use in Europe. Leopards are also considered easier to maintain and consume less fuel.

While German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, who replaced Christine Lambrecht this week, is due to meet Austin on Thursday, it is possible that a decision has already been made higher up in the German government on whether to approve the transfers.

Poland and Finland have said they are ready to send some of their Leopard tanks to Ukraine, but no move has been made publicly to make that transfer seem imminent. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, however, said this week that he was not yet ready to make a decision on Leopard tanks in his army’s warehouses. Other countries fielding German tanks, such as Spain and Norway, have not commented publicly on the matter, although Spain expressed a willingness to field Leopards last summer.

“We believe that the supply of modern tanks will significantly help and improve the ability of the Ukrainians to fight where they are fighting now and to fight more effectively in the future,” the Security Council spokesman told reporters on Wednesday. national, John Kirby, referring to European tanks. He declined to comment on any upcoming aid package from the US

This week’s Ramstein meeting promises to be one of the most important of the monthly meetings of defense ministers, as the 50 nations discuss how to prepare Ukraine for more difficult months of combat. In addition to Britain’s recent announcement of Challenger tanks and the new US package, Finland is set to unveil its largest shipment of military aid to Ukraine to date, according to a person familiar with the reflection in Helsinki. Finland does not publicize its contributions, but has sent artillery, small arms and winter clothing in the past.

Western leaders have been cautious about publicly pushing Germany too hard on the tank issue. Support for Ukraine is “about making sure each of us can do what we can do,” British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly told reporters in Washington on Tuesday. “And our ability to support is going to be different from nation to nation.”

Meanwhile, the United States launched new training programs for Ukraine this week: an expanded course to improve the combat skills of Ukrainian forces in Germany and training on the Patriot missile system at Fort Sill, Okla. . Ukraine is expected to receive three Patriot batteries, a defensive system designed to shoot down missiles and aircraft: one from the United States and one from Germany and the Netherlands.

Before going to the Ramstein meeting, Milley stopped to view the formation in Germany, which extends the pipeline to 500 Ukrainian soldiers per month and includes instructions on how to coordinate infantry maneuvers with artillery support.

Alexander Ward and Erin Banco contributed to this report from Davos, Switzerland.

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