The U.S. is sending Ukraine its largest aid package yet
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The Biden administration is sending its largest single military aid package yet to Ukraine, and it includes some new hardware. NPR's Greg Myre recently returned from a six-week reporting trip to Ukraine and joins us now.
Greg, thanks so much for being with us.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: My pleasure, Scott.
SIMON: And what's in this package?
MYRE: Well, it really runs the gamut. It's a wide range of armored vehicles, artillery systems, air defense systems, ammunition to replace stocks that are running low. The overall package is right around $3 billion, larger than any of the 28 previous packages sent by the Biden administration. And this is significant for a couple reasons. First, it sends the clear message that more heavy fighting is expected. A lot of these weapons are designed for ground combat with Russian troops or possibly a Ukrainian offensive. And second, the Ukrainians are extremely concerned that the U.S. and other NATO countries might lose interest, and international support could dwindle. But this shows there's very strong military and political support still going their way.
SIMON: We should note, Ukraine has been pleading - I think that's a fair word to use - pleading for tanks. Instead, it is getting armored vehicles. Remind us of the difference.
MYRE: Yeah. So the U.S. will be sending dozens of Bradley fighting vehicles. Now, at first blush, they resemble tanks. They travel on treads. They have armor on the body, a gun in the front. And they can destroy enemy tanks. But it's not quite as heavy and powerful as the mainline U.S. battle tanks. Now, the Pentagon says that tanks require more maintenance and training. And we've also seen the Biden administration incrementally increase the systems that it provides to Ukraine while often stopping short or just a little bit short of everything that Ukraine wants. Still, these Bradley vehicles will be an upgrade in the level of protection and firepower for Ukraine. And Ukraine's foreign minister says it's a very good start to the year, showing that Ukraine is getting weapons that it couldn't get last year.
SIMON: Greg, so many reports have focused on the Russian effort to knock out the electricity grid in Ukraine. Tell us what's happening on that front, please.
MYRE: Yeah. The Russian bombing campaign hasn't let up, and the expectation is it will continue all winter. But the Ukrainians are proving remarkably resilient. I mean, one recent example - Russia has unleashed more than 80 drone attacks in recent days. Ukraine says it shot them all down. Now, the past three months of Russian missile and drone attacks have taken a cumulative toll. Ukraine can't produce all the power it needs every day - maybe 70% or so. Ukrainians typically have to endure daily power outages. But Ukraine keeps patching up the power grid. So far, the Russians have not been able to knock out power for extended periods - days or weeks at a time.
SIMON: Of course, we're approaching the one-year mark of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the war. What do you think we should be alert for in the days and weeks ahead?
MYRE: Scott, we've heard a lot of talk about the war slowing this winter, but so far, we're not seeing that. There's still very heavy daily fighting. Now, a lot of military analysts say that the Russians have little prospect for making any major advances this winter. They seem to be mostly digging in and entrenching their existing positions. The Ukrainians, in a bit of a contrast, do feel the clock is ticking, that if the war becomes a stalemate, the pressure will grow for a negotiated settlement, with the Russians still occupying a large chunk of Ukrainian territory. So it is considered quite possible that we could see a Ukrainian offensive this winter.
SIMON: NPR's Greg Myre.
Thanks so much.
MYRE: My pleasure, Scott.
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