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US says it will divert more air defense missiles to Ukraine

The U.S. will reroute planned deliveries of defensive missiles to Ukraine, delaying shipments to other countries that have purchased them, officials said Thursday.
The Patriot weapons system
Posted at 7:05 PM, Jun 21, 2024

The United States will divert air defense missile exports to Ukraine, the White House announced Thursday.

The administration is reprioritizing upcoming planned deliveries from foreign military sales to other countries, particularly of Patriot and National Advanced surface-to-air missiles, a White House spokesperson said.

It was a “difficult but necessary decision,” according to White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby.

“This will ensure that we’ll be able to provide Ukraine with the missiles they need to maintain their stockpiles at a key moment in the war and as we get, again, towards the end of summer and into the fall,” Kirby told reporters.

The first shipments are expected before the end of the summer, with aid stretching into next fiscal year. “It is in the realm of the hundreds, and it’s both Patriot interceptor missiles and NASAM interceptor missiles,” he added.

The other countries’ missile orders will be delayed, but still received. They were notified of the decision, with a response Kirby described as “broadly understanding.”

“And we’re making every effort to minimize any negative impact to countries with affected foreign military sales cases. If any of our other partners were ever in a situation similar to Ukraine’s, we would go to extraordinary lengths to support their security as well,” he said.

President Joe Biden briefed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy while in Italy for the G7 earlier this month, according to a senior administration official.

President Biden told reporters at the time, "We let it be known to those countries that are expecting from us air defense systems in the future that they’re going to have to wait. Everything we have is going to go to Ukraine until their needs are met. And then we will make good on the commitments we made to other countries.”

However, the considerations date back to early April as requests for aid stalled in Congress, Russia intensified its battlefield efforts against Ukraine and the administration looked for ways to continue prioritizing Ukraine’s air defense.

It was then that National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan asked his team if the reprioritization of the critical air defense interceptors was possible and principals agreed to review options, according to a senior administration official.

Over the next weeks, the options were reviewed before the end of May when an implementation plan for the rescheduling of air defense deliveries was finalized and the government started notifying countries impacted, according to the official. Impacts to Taiwan and Israel are not expected, according to Kirby.

It’s a “decisive act,” according to William Pomeranz, director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, who also noted the U.S. and allies’ recent decision to tap into proceeds from frozen Russian assets to aid Ukraine.

“This shows how the policy on Ukraine is evolving and we are becoming even more engaged in the defense of Ukraine,” Pomeranz said.

“The risk is always what’s in Putin’s mind and whether this escalation of the war, the deteriorating situation for the Russian army, how he handles that and how he reacts. The question is what happens if he believes his back is against the wall,” said Pomeranz.

The redirecting of the exported missiles is separate from the effort to secure Patriot systems, of which Zelenskyy has asked for seven. President Biden in June said commitments were secured from five countries.

“It doesn’t mean that tomorrow we will have these five systems, but we see, in the closest future, good result for Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said, to which President Biden responded, “You’ll have some relatively quickly.”

Following Romania’s decision to send a Patriot missile system to Ukraine Thursday, Zelenskyy said, “We are now capable of defeating Russia's imperial ambitions, and this will bring peace and confidence back to our entire Europe. We are now working with the team to secure the delivery of several more Patriots.”

In the meantime, Russia has continued to deepen its defense relationship with North Korea.

Earlier this week, Russia and North Korea agreed to aid each other’s defense in the event of invasion or war. White House officials were not surprised, noting their months of warnings about the growing defense relationship between Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un.

“Trips to North Korea and to Vietnam doesn’t really kind of increase the global relevance of the Russian federation,” Pomeranz said, later adding, “I think Putin is trying to just raise his profile, say 'Please look at me,' at a time when his economy and his military is being degraded.”

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