The announcement came as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with NATO allies and other partners for two days of talks in Brussels focused on support for Ukraine and broader changes in transatlantic security.
In recent weeks, Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials have been calling for more advanced weapons that could help Russia fend off the larger, more advanced military, including air defense and missile defense systems.
At a news conference in Brussels on Wednesday, Austin said the latest package will be “critical” in helping Ukraine fend off the Russian attack in Donbas. “It will make a difference,” he said.
Austin suggested more will come from allies and partners, noting that Germany would send long-range artillery rocket systems, Slovakia has promised helicopters and ammunition, among other things. Allies “will focus on this for as long as it takes,” he said.
Earlier Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said NATO members were working out a new aid package and “committed to continuing to provide the military equipment Ukraine needs to be victorious, including heavy weapons and long-range systems” — but gave no details about plans.
In the longer term, the alliance will help the Ukrainian military move from the Soviet era to NATO-standard weapons and provide the support needed to make the transition, he said. “This is our focus and, I think, the most pressing need in our relationship with Ukraine right now.”
The United States and its European allies have gradually expanded the weapons they supplied to Ukraine after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion on February 24. But they continue to withhold certain systems, including fighter jets, and have provided only a limited number of other weapons for fear they could be used to attack deep into Russian territory.
Ukrainian officials have been saying for months they need “weapons, weapons, weapons”, but the plea is becoming more urgent as the battle enters a new phase.
A visiting delegation of Ukrainian officials in Washington admitted on Wednesday that Russian forces destroyed three of the four Howitzers and some of the advanced missile systems recently shipped by the United States.
The group said the West must accept that equipment will be destroyed in the conflict, and said more weapons were desperately needed.
“Yes, we are losing Howitzers, but again, we are at war and it is clear that some of this stuff will be shot or destroyed, but unfortunately there is no other way,” said Ukrainian parliament member Oleksandra Ustinova.
The group, which includes Ukraine’s chief negotiator with Russia, David Arakhamia, said the loss of weapons only exacerbated the need for the US to send more equipment. “We need weapons, weapons, weapons,” he said.
They also called for the United States to provide General Atomics large, long-range Gray Eagle drones, despite concerns that Russia would easily shoot them down.
“We keep hearing that if we give you MiGs they will be shot down, if we give you drones they will be shot down. You have to understand that we are at war, yes, we will lose some,” said Ustinova.
Wednesday’s announcement kicked off two days of rallies in Brussels focused on the war in Ukraine and how it is transforming transatlantic security.
NATO allies and partners met for a dinner Wednesday evening to discuss Ukraine and will meet again on Thursday to debate longer-term issues, including changes in the Alliance’s forces and the issue of defense spending, ahead of a NATO summit in Madrid at the end of June.
“We will now make decisions about the scale and design of our posture for the longer term,” Stoltenberg said. “This represents a major increase in our presence, capabilities and readiness.”
Although Stoltenberg declined to go into details, he said the alliance was discussing how best to bolster its defense and deterrent capabilities, particularly on the eastern flank. This effort will likely involve additional troops, pre-positioning heavy equipment and pre-allocation of troops to specific countries, he said.
However, preparation for the summit overshadows Turkey’s resistance to bids from Sweden and Finland to join the alliance. While Stoltenberg and other leaders initially expressed confidence that NATO would act swiftly on the issue, Ankara’s push back has changed the conversation and increased fears of a stalemate.
On Wednesday, Stoltenberg admitted that the Turkish opposition surprised him: “We had no information that that would be a problem,” he said.
But Stoltenberg and other officials stressed that the alliance is working to resolve the issue and get both aspiring members to Madrid as “invitees.”
“Many of us had hopes that we would see these two countries in Madrid as guests at the table with the other leaders,” US Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith said on Tuesday. Now that may not happen.
Still, she added, “I think the allies are all hoping this is something we can resolve in weeks and months, not years.”