The United States and its NATO allies are mulling the prospect of again increasing their military aid to Ukraine, along with the specifics of what that shopping list should include.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland on Wednesday that Ukraine needs a “significant increase” in weapons in what he called a “pivotal moment” in the war.
“This is a pivotal moment in the war and the need for a significant increase in support for Ukraine,” Stoltenberg told Reuters during the gathering.
“If we want a negotiated peaceful solution tomorrow we need to provide more weapons today,” he said.
The Biden administration is expected to finalize a new package of military aid for Ukraine by the end of this week. The package, expected to total approximately $2.6 billion, would include Stryker combat vehicles for the first time, according to a report by CNN.
The US announced a separate security package earlier this month that totalled more than $3 billion and included the first shipment of Bradley infantry fighting vehicles. A military aid package announced in late December 2022 totalled $1.85 billion.
This latest package is one of the largest to be announced since the start of the war last February. It would also include more armored Bradley fighting vehicles, nearly 500 mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs), more ammunition for Ukraine’s artillery systems and HIMARS rocket systems.
“What we’re trying to look at is the mix of armored and mechanized forces that make sense,” Colin Kahl, undersecretary of defense for policy, told reporters Wednesday.
The move was taking place while US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was in Berlin to speak with his new German counterpart prior to a meeting Friday with defense leaders from 50 countries and NATO at the NATO Ukraine Defense Contact Group at Germany’s Ramstein Air Base.
Germany’s new defense minister, Boris Pistorius, hosted Austin on Thursday.
The focus of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group’s gathering is expected to zero in on Germany’s opposition to sending its Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine and/or approving their transfer from allied nations. Leopard tanks are widely believed to be the most suitable for Ukraine.
Poland and Finland have both said they will send Leopard tanks to Ukraine if Germany approves the transfer. Leopard tanks are used by most NATO allies in Europe.
But German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has agreed to send the Leopard tanks to Ukraine only if the United States agrees to send its own tanks, according to senior German officials quoted by The Wall Street Journal.
The Biden administration is expected to approve Stryker armored vehicles for Ukraine, but has not yet agreed to send tanks, US officials told the Voice of America on condition of anonymity.
Britain has already agreed to send a squadron of 14 Challenger II tanks to Kyiv.
US: ‘Russia is not Done’
“Russia is not done,” US Army Chief of Staff General James McConville warned Wednesday in a meeting of the Association of the US Army in Arlington, Virginia reported by Breaking Defense.
Pointing out the Kremlin still plans to build a 1.5 million-soldier military by 2026, the general urged American defense contractors to increase their local production of vital components in addition to larger hardware.
“If we don’t make it here, then you may not be able to make that system. We found that out with masks for COVID,” he reminded. “[So] we all need to take a hard look at how we do business [and] we may need to do things differently in the future.”
McConville added that the US and its European allies must invest in their defense industries for the long term in order to ensure an ongoing supply of key military components in addition to scaling up production of key munitions.
“Industry is going to invest in areas that they think there’s going to be return on investment … If they see resources being put in, investments being made, contracts being signed, they’re going to get after that,” he said.
McConville emphasized the need to plan for the long haul. “We plan for the worst,” he said. “Russia is not done; they say they’re not. They’re going to build their army and when they say 1.5 million [troops], they’re talking 2026. This thing is not over for the next couple of years.”
This past Tuesday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, met with Ukrainian military chief General Valeriy Zaluzhniy at a base near Poland’s border with Ukraine to discuss the need for increased supplies of Western arms, according to the Global Security.org news outlet.
“It’s important that two very important military officials look at each other in the eye when they talk about very important topics. It makes a difference,” US military spokesperson Colonel David Butler told reporters, noting that this was the first face-to-face meeting of the military leaders.
Multiple news outlets reported the US delegation included five other military officers, plus interpreter and security personnel, as well.