The United States will give Ukraine 18 more advanced rocket systems as part of a new $1.1 billion military aid package to the country, Pentagon officials announced Wednesday.
We’ll share the details of the latest tranche of weapons and how they’ll be provided, plus the growing danger with Russia President Vladimir Putin. Then we’ll look at how top U.S. officials have reached out to their counterparts in Denmark over explosions and leaks at the Nord Stream pipeline, and why U.S. forces brought down an Iranian drone in Iraq.
This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.
Ukraine getting more rocket systems from US
Eighteen additional High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) will be given to Ukraine under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI), meaning they won’t come from preexisting U.S. weapons stocks and instead will be newly manufactured and sent to Kyiv once finished.
Such a delivery method allows the U.S. government to plan out weapons shipments in the mid and long term while keeping U.S. stocks from being too quickly depleted.
“This USAI package underscores the U.S. commitment to supporting Ukraine over the long term,” a senior defense official told reporters. “It represents a multiyear investment in critical capabilities to build the enduring strength of Ukraine’s armed forces as it continues to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty in the face of Russian aggression.”
What’s in the package? The package, which brings U.S. security assistance committed to Ukraine to more than $16.2 billion since February, also includes:
- HIMARS-associated ammunitions
- 150 armored high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles
- 40 trucks
- 80 trailers to help Ukrainian troops transport heavy equipment
- Additional radars for drones, communication and surveillance systems
- Mine and bomb disposal equipment
- Body armor and field equipment
When will they get to Ukraine?: The Pentagon expects most of the capabilities in the package to be delivered to Ukraine in six to 24 months.
Putin seen as more dangerous as war turns sour
Russian President Vladimir Putin is becoming more dangerous and desperate as he faces growing pressure at home over the flailing war effort in Ukraine, observers of the conflict and Moscow say.
Putin in the last week has renewed his threats of using nuclear weapons in Ukraine and moved to annex territories from Ukraine, while arguing attacks on that territory would amount to an attack on Russia.
His government is also suspected in causing leaks to a pipeline under the Baltic Sea that carries fuel to Europe, although the gas flow was earlier suspended.
Following: The new threats come after a mobilization effort of 300,000 reservists in Russia, announced in response to criticism of Putin’s war effort, received blowback across the country. Images of lines of cars seeking to get across the border into neighboring states have circulated, underscoring internal tensions over the war.
A forceful reaction: The Biden administration and U.S. allies have reacted forcefully, warning that the use of nuclear weapons would lead to serious consequences.
A potential tinderbox: Outside experts describe a tinderbox of sort.
- “He is dangerous, he is desperate,” said Daniel Fried, distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council and a former U.S. ambassador to Poland.
- “Because he’s in a weak position he’s doubling down on what he may consider to be his strongest remaining assets: nuclear threat and ability to use violence to achieve his aims, such as blowing up the Nordstream pipelines, if in fact Russia is responsible, which it appears they may be. He’s hoping to use unpredictability as a tactical weapon to intimidate the West.”
Feds offer support to Denmark over Nord Stream
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday spoke with his Danish counterpart to offer potential U.S. assistance following explosions and leaks at the Nord Stream pipeline, according to a senior defense official.
Help offered: “Secretary Austin has had the opportunity to speak with [Danish Defense Minister Morten Bødskov] today and just offer that, if there’s any support that they need we’re there for them,” the official told Pentagon reporters on a background call.
A senior military official who also spoke said the U.S. military has the capability to assist in the region, “but we haven’t been asked to do so.”
Other calls: White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have also reached out to their counterparts in Denmark about the leaks.
Earlier accusations: On Tuesday, seismic stations near the Baltic Sea recorded explosions as the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines began experiencing leaks. The two natural gas pipelines run under the sea from Russia to Germany, though they don’t currently supply gas to Europe.
- European leaders and experts have quickly pointed to possible sabotage as the reason for the sudden leaks, as the West is in an energy standoff with Russia over its war in Ukraine.
- Danish officials, meanwhile, have said the leaks were caused by “deliberate actions.”
New info: State Department spokesperson Ned Price earlier Wednesday said Washington is now “sharing information that is in our possession regarding these apparent acts of sabotage” on the pipelines, though they “have more questions than answers at this point.”
US forces bring down Iranian drone
U.S. forces on Wednesday brought down an Iranian drone that officials said appeared poised to attack American troops in Iraq.
Ongoing attacks: The downing came as the Iranian military started a drone bombing campaign targeting the bases of an Iranian-Kurdish opposition group in northern Iraq, attacks that have killed at least nine people and wounded 32 others, according to the Kurdish Regional Government’s Health Ministry.
The bombings follow Iraqi and Iranian Kurds protesting in Iraq’s northern city of Erbil over the death of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old Kurdish woman who died in the custody of Iran’s so-called morality police.
Condemnation: “U.S. Central Command condemns the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ unprovoked attack in Iraq’s Erbil Governorate this morning. Such indiscriminate attacks threaten innocent civilians and risk the hard-fought stability of the region,” command spokesman Joe Buccino said in a statement.
The U.S. government as a whole has condemned the strikes, with national security adviser Jake Sullivan stating Wednesday that Washington stands “with Iraq’s leaders in the Kurdistan region and Baghdad in condemning these attacks as an assault on the sovereignty of Iraq and its people.”
Drone downing details: In the midst of the bombing campaign, U.S. forces at
2:10 p.m. local time brought down an Iranian Mojer-6 unmanned aerial vehicle “headed in the direction of Erbil as it appeared as a threat to CENTCOM forces in the area,” according to Buccino.
He noted that no U.S. forces were wounded or killed, no U.S. equipment was damaged as a result of the strikes and that Central Command forces are assessing the situation.
U.S. and coalition troops are based in Iraq to advise and assist its military to counter ISIS militants and keep the terrorist group from resurging in the region.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
- The Center for European Policy Analysis will finish off a virtual three-day forum on “Meeting the Moment: Allies at a Crossroads,” with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), at 9 a.m.
- A House Foreign Affairs subcommittee will hold a hearing on “Assessing the Biden Administration’s U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa,” at 10 a.m.
- Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall will speak virtually at The Center for American Progress on “The crisis in Ukraine, competition with China, human rights, and the role of the U.S. in the world,” at 3 p.m.
WHAT WE’RE READING
- Biden pushes limits of Taiwan policy, despite Chinese outrage
- CIA director: Manpower just one of Putin military’s problems
- Lawmakers push for bill to prosecute Russian war criminals who enter US
- Harris: Recent behavior by China ‘disturbing’
- Zelensky vows to protect Ukrainians as Russia prepares to annex occupied territory
- Europe vows ‘robust’ response to alleged sabotage of Russian gas pipelines
- US Embassy in Russia tells Americans to leave the country
- More Democrats than Republicans think Ukraine is winning Russia war: poll