West sends Ukraine fighter jets, heavy weapons as fighting intensifies in Donbas

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Ukraine’s outgunned and outmanned military has held out against Russia for almost two months, and as Russia intensifies its attacks on Ukraine’s east and south, Western governments are dispatching heavier weaponry and warplanes to support resistance efforts.

President Biden approved a new $800 million aid package last week that dramatically expanded the scope of weapons Washington has supplied to Kyiv. The package included 155 mm howitzers — a serious upgrade in long-range artillery to match Russian systems — 40,000 artillery rounds and 11 Soviet-designed Mi-17 helicopters.

The latter fit well with Ukraine’s existing arsenal because those use a similar operating system as the Mi-8 helicopters that Kyiv has used for decades, said Alexey Muraviev, a national security expert at Australia’s Curtin University.

“We do the best we can with each package to tailor it to the need at the time, and now the need has changed,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday. “The war has changed, because now the Russians have prioritized the Donbas area, and that’s a whole different level of fighting, a whole different type of fighting.”

Ukraine has also received fighter aircraft and related parts from other nations, Kirby said.

Kirby stated that Ukraine has also received fighter aircraft and related parts from other countries.

At the start of a visit to the three Baltic states that are NATO members, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Wednesday that Germany has delivered antitank weapons, Stinger antiaircraft missiles “and other things that we didn’t talk about in public so that the deliveries could be carried out quickly and securely.”

Some of the materiel being dispatched by the West will arrive ahead of expected clashes between Russian and Ukrainian troops in the eastern Donbas region that will be particularly bloody, said Chang Jun Yan, a military expert at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University. He said that future combat will likely be more extensive than the recent clashes between these countries. However, the West’s materiel delivery to the three Baltic states is ahead of the expected clashes between Russian and Ukrainian forces in eastern Donbas. The Ukrainian soldiers who have been fighting against Russian-backed separatists for many years are well equipped to face off in Donbas.

But fresh weapons deliveries and familiarity with terrain do not mean Ukrainian forces will have an easy time against Russian troops that have superior arms. A senior U.S. defense official said this week that Russia was learning from its failure to seize Kyiv, the capital, and making adjustments to its command-and-control and logistics structures.

“The resupply of Ukraine is not just important but has to happen quickly and has to happen in large scale,” said Mick Ryan, a retired Australian army major general, who has been analyzing the invasion. “It also has to assume that the Russians might interdict some shipment.”

Washington Post Pentagon and national security reporter Karoun Demirjian explains the difficulties of deciding which weapons to send Ukraine. (Video: Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post)

Other Western nations have also moved to deliver more sophisticated weapons to Ukraine as the war evolves. Britain in April pledged a defense support package worth some $130 million that includes more antitank missiles, air defense systems and nonlethal equipment. Norway announced Wednesday that it would donate 100 Mistral air defense missiles on top of the light anti-armor weapons it promised late last month. Mark Rutte, the Dutch Prime Minister, stated Tuesday that his government will soon send “heavier military equipment”.

Farther afield, the Australian government has started sending Bushmasters to Kyiv after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked lawmakers in Canberra for the armored vehicles last month. The 20 promised Bushmasters will protect Ukrainians from explosives, artillery shrapnel and small-arms fire, Canberra said.

Ukraine will require arms deliveries well into the future if it is to fight off Russia, and analysts say the 40,000 rounds Washington has promised would last no more than two weeks on the battlefield. Ryan stated that quantity is important. “Even though I think the Ukrainians qualitatively are better, they still need a certain mass to repel the Russians.”

Although some equipment — such as the Bushmasters — is advanced, much of what the West is providing is not as sophisticated as the weapons in Russia’s arsenal. The West insists that it sends equipment that can be used immediately. The United States has also committed to training Ukrainian forces that are out of the country to use new weapons. )

Most of the West’s arms “would not give the Ukrainian military the technological edge of the Russian military, but they will allow it to make up, at least temporarily, for the shortage of military supplies,” Muraviev said.

Karen DeYoung, Rachel Pannett and Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.

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