Analysis: Biden is set to unveil $1.8B weapons deal for Ukraine. Here’s how it could affect the war

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US President Joe Biden is expected to announce an additional $1.8 billion in security assistance to Ukraine during President Volodymyr Zelensky’s expected visit to the White House. The significant boost in aid is expected to be headlined by the Patriot missile defense systems that are included in the package, a US official told CNN.

There are two key headline deliverables: first, the Patriot missile systems. Complex, accurate, and expensive, they have been described as the US’s “gold standard” of air defense. NATO preciously guards them, and they require the personnel who operate them – almost 100 in a battalion for each weapon – to be properly trained.

The second are precision-guided munitions for Ukrainian jets. Ukraine, and Russia, largely are equipped with munitions that are “dumb” – fired roughly towards a target. Ukraine has been provided with more and more Western standard precision artillery and missiles, like Howitzers and HIMARS respectively.

The new deal will likely include the supply of guidance kits, or Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs), which Ukraine can use to bolt on to their unguided missiles or bombs. This will increase their accuracy and the rate in which Kyiv’s forces burn through ammunition. A lot of the $1.8 billion is expected to fund munitions replacements and stocks.

Ukrainian servicemen ride American self-propelled howitzers  in Donetsk.

These two headline packages alone could impact the course of the war. Russia’s most potent threat now is the constant bombardment of energy infrastructure. It is making winter colder and unbearable for some, plunging cities into darkness of up 12 hours a day and sometimes longer, in the hope of sapping high Ukrainian morale.

Patriot air defense systems could intercept a large number of Russia’s missiles and attack drones – although Ukraine already claims a high success rate; on Monday, for example, it said 30 out of 35 missiles had been stopped. The Patriot is also a sign NATO’s best technology is on the table to help Ukraine win the war, or at least hold Russia back.

In this February 20, 2020 file photo, a member of the US Air Force stands near a Patriot missile battery at the Prince Sultan Air Base in al-Kharj, Saudi Arabia.

More precision weapons are vital: they ensure Ukraine hits its targets, and not any civilians remaining nearby. And it means Ukraine does not go through the hundreds or thousands of shells Russia appears to burn through as it blanket bombards areas it wants to capture.

The consumption rate of munitions for both sides will become an existential issue as the war drags into its second year.

Noisily, but that may be all. Kremlin watchers like to parse the latest statements from the Russian President Vladimir Putin each time US weapons deliveries improve Ukraine’s position. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday the latest tranche “leads to an aggravation of the conflict and does not bode well for Ukraine.”

But Moscow is struggling to equip and rally its conventional forces, and, with the exception of its nuclear forces, appears to be running out of new cards to play. China and India have joined the West in open statements against the use of nuclear force, which has made that option even less likely.

Western analysts have noted Russia has grumbled consistently about these deliveries, but been relatively muted in its practical response to the crossing of what, as recently as January, might have been considered “red lines.”

Yes. There is an enormous $45 billion aid package in the works, and while not all military, it is part of a consistent drumbeat from the Biden administration. The message is simple: Ukraine is receiving as much aid as Washington can provide, short of boots on the ground, and that aid will not stop.

Whatever the eventual truth of the matter – and military aid is opaque at the best of times – Biden wants Putin to hear nothing but headline figures in the billions, to sap Russian resolve, push European partners to help more, and make Ukraine’s resources seem limitless.

This is trickier. Congress’s likely new Speaker, Republican Kevin McCarthy, has warned the Biden administration cannot expect a “blank cheque” from the new GOP-led House of Representatives.

The remnants of the Trumpist “America First” elements of that party have echoed doubts about how much aid the US should really be sending to the edges of eastern Europe.

Realistically, the bill for the slow defeat of Russia in this dark and lengthy conflict is relatively light for Washington, given its near trillion-dollar annual defense budget.

Video by CNN affiliate TVN in Poland captures the moment Zelensky arrived by train in Przemysl, near the Polish/Ukrainian border, on his way to Washington on Wednesday, December 21.

Zelensky’s physical appearance in Washington is surely designed to remind Republicans of the urgency of Ukraine’s fight and how a defeat for Kyiv would lead Moscow’s nuclear-backed brutality right to the doorstep of NATO, and then likely drag the US into a boots-on-the ground war with Russia.

He is an inspiring rhetorician, and – as a former reality TV star turned unexpected president – the embodiment of how Putin’s war of choice has turned ordinary Ukrainians into wartime heroes.

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