Ignoring warnings from Russia, the US and its NATO allies continue to escalate the military assistance they are providing to Ukraine.
The Pentagon said Tuesday that Ukraine has received fighter jets and aircraft parts but declined to say which country they came from. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Ukrainian forces “right now have available to them more fixed-wing fighter aircraft than they did two weeks ago.”
The fighter jets likely came from a NATO member that was formerly a Soviet state, as Ukraine’s air force is only trained to use older Russian-made aircraft. Earlier in the war, the US was in talks with Poland on transferring Warsaw’s MiG-29 jets to Ukraine, but the Pentagon backed out of the plan, warning Moscow would view such assistance as escalatory.
But now, it appears whatever risks the Pentagon assessed came with sending warplanes to Ukraine are worth taking. Russia formally told the US in a diplomatic letter last week to stop arming Ukraine, but the warning was shrugged off, and the US and NATO have since moved to send heavier weapons into Ukraine.
For the first time, the US has sent howitzers to Ukraine, along with 40,000 rounds of artillery as part of a massive $800 million weapons package. In another escalation of assistance, a senior Pentagon official told reporters Wednesday that the US has begun training Ukrainian forces on how to use the howitzers in an undisclosed location.
The official wouldn’t say where the training was taking place. “It has begun in the country outside Ukraine. I am not going to tell you — be able to detail where this is happening, but it has happened. And we expect the training to last for about a week. And this is training the trainers. It’s a smallish number of Ukrainians, a little bit more than 50,” the official said.
The Times recently reported that British Special Air Service (SAS) troops are training Ukrainian forces on how to use anti-tank weapons provided by London on Ukrainian territory. The SAS mission makes the UK the first known NATO member to have a troop presence inside Ukraine since the Russian invasion.
US weapons makers stand to see a long-term benefit from the war in Ukraine and the Western campaign to pour weapons into the country. According to a report from Forbes, Ukraine is in talks with US arms maker General Atomics to receive MQ-9 Reaper drones.
“With support from the US government, those aircraft could be in the hands of Ukrainian military pilots in a matter of days,” said General Atomics spokesman C. Mark Brinkle. The MQ-9s are worth about $32 million each, and the tab is expected to be picked up by the US government.
Since Russia invaded on February 24, the US pledged about $2.6 billion in military aid. According to media reports, President Biden is preparing to announce yet another weapons package for Ukraine that will be similar in size to the $800 million one that was announced last week.