New U.S. military aid ‘will help save Ukrainian lives,’ Pentagon’s Kirby says

President Biden on Wednesday approved $800 million in new military assistance to Ukraine, including weaponry designed to counter Russian forces who are refocusing their offensive on eastern Ukraine. Pentagon press secretary John Kirby joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the impact the aid may have on the ground.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    To further discuss the U.S. support for Ukraine and the new weapons package President Biden announced today, I spoke just a few moments ago with Department of Defense spokesman, John Kirby.

    Admiral John Kirby, thank you very much for joining us.

    So, $800 million in new military and security aid, tell us what difference the Biden administration believes this is going to make in the overall war effort.

  • John Kirby, Pentagon Press Secretary:

    Well, if you take a look at some of the capabilities, there are new capabilities, not things that we have provided in the past.

    And they're really designed to help Ukraine in the now, in today's fight, the fight that they're going to be having here going forward in the Donbass region, a much more confined geographic region where the Russians are now reprioritizing.

    So, take a look at, for instance, the howitzers and the 40,000 artillery rounds that are going to go with that. The fight in the Donbass is going to rely on artillery. And, in fact, the Russians are already moving artillery units into the Donbass because of the geography, the topography there.

    Look at the counterbattery radar that was provided. That will help save Ukrainian lives because they will be able to track incoming artillery rounds from the Russians. The unmanned surface vessels that we're going to be providing to help them with some coastal defense down in the Sea of Azov are in the Northern Black Sea. In addition to that, there are Javelin missiles as part of this package, which we know are very effective against Russian tanks.

    So, lots of capabilities in here that are really designed to help Ukraine in the fight that they're in right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The foreign minister of Ukraine, Mr. Kuleba, has been saying this is the kind of thing they need in days, not weeks.

    How quickly is all this going to get into the hands of the Ukrainian military?

  • John Kirby:

    It can get there, start to get there very quickly.

    We have been able since — in the past, between the time the president authorizes something until it gets into Ukrainian hands can be as little as less than a week, five to six days. Now, we're going to be moving with a sense of energy and urgency here. We know the clock is not on our side.

    We know that time is a factor. And so we're going to be moving these things as quickly as possible. I would add that not all of these things have to come from the United States. Some of this stuff will probably come from areas where they're prepositioned and a little closer to Ukraine.

    So, it may not take quite that long, but we're going to be moving things as fast as we can. Even while we're working on that, Judy, we are closing out the previous $800 million that the president signed out in the middle of March. There are Javelin missiles that are literally flying today and in tomorrow on the way to Ukraine.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    At the same time, Admiral Kirby, we know that President Zelenskyy has repeatedly asked the allies for military aircraft. Why not provide that at this critical moment?

  • John Kirby:

    Well, I would tell you that there are some nations that are helping Mr. Zelenskyy with his fixed-wing aircraft fleet, and he has more aircraft available to him now than, frankly, he did just a couple of weeks ago.

    Now, every nation-state that does this does this on their own terms. They talk about it or they don't talk about it. That's their decision, and we respect that. But he continues to be able to put more aircraft into operational condition even as the war goes on.

    What we're also focused on is long-range air defense. And you saw the Slovakian government just a few days ago announce that they're sending an S-300 system. We're going to backfill that temporarily with a Patriot system, so that Slovakia also has legitimate and credible air defense.

    We are working closely every day with allies and partners who have these kinds of systems, tanks, for instance, T-72 tanks, that they're willing to provide to Ukraine, and the United States is helping have those conversations with them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Some of this new equipment, weaponry that the U.S. is sending to Ukraine is going to require training on the part of their troops.

    Is the U.S. going to be sending more soldiers into the area to train them? And are you concerned that this could be seen as some kind of provocation by Russia?

  • John Kirby:

    Well, so let's break it apart a little bit.

    Most of the systems we're sending in this new package don't require any training. The Ukrainians already know how to use this stuff, like Javelins and like the Switchblade UAVs. Some of the stuff, the howitzers and maybe these radars, they might need a little bit of training, but not a lot. These are not ultra-sophisticated systems. It won't take that long to get Ukrainians up to speed on it.

    So we're looking at perhaps a train-the-trainers scenario, where you pull out a small number of Ukrainians outside the country, you show them how to use these systems, and then they go back in and help their colleagues and teammates use them going forward.

    We think that we can handle that, since it's a limited duration and a limited number of training needs, with the troops that we already have in Europe.

    Now, look, how Mr. Putin might see this, that will be up to him. We know we have a requirement to help Ukraine defend itself. These capabilities are literally ones that we have been discussing with the Ukrainians. We know they need them. We know that they can use them. And so that's our focus, is making sure that they can actually use them once they get inside Ukraine.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As you know, Vladimir Putin right now is saying that he is committed to finishing what he set out to do. This war could go on for a very long time.

    This is unlike anything the U.S. has faced against another country, a country certainly the size of Russia, in a very long time. Is the U.S. equipped to keep sending supplies that Ukraine is going to need to stick with it?

  • John Kirby:

    I will tell you, the president has been really clear, we're going to help Ukraine as much as we can, as fast as we can.

    And this additional $800 million that he's just signed out today is proof-positive our commitment to actually do that. And ,as I said, stuff is moving in everyday, literally eight to 10 flights a day into the region. And it doesn't take long for that stuff to eventually get inside Ukraine via ground routes.

    We're going to keep doing this as long as we can, as long as the Ukrainians need that help in the fight. And I will tell you, the proof is in the pudding, Judy. I mean, if you just look at how the Russians had to completely refashion their strategy inside Ukraine because they failed in Kyiv, they failed in Chernihiv, they failed to make progress in the south.

    They never took that town of Mykolaiv. They still haven't been able to present any kind of credible threat against Odessa. That's not by accident. That's because the Ukrainians have been so effective on the battlefield. And that effectiveness comes from the security assistance that we and 30 other nations are providing, as well as the training that we have been conducting over the last eight years inside Ukraine.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, who is the spokesman at the Pentagon.

    John Kirby, thank you very much.

  • John Kirby:

    Yes, ma'am. Thank you.

Listen to this Segment