U.S. to send advanced weapons to Ukraine as part of new $700 million aid package

The Biden administration unveiled a new $700 million package of weapons for Ukraine, including the most advanced rockets yet to be used in that country's conflict with Russia. The high mobility artillery rocket system, or HIMARS, that the U.S. is sending can hit targets 45 miles away. Amanda Sloat, director for Europe at the National Security Council, joins Nick Schifrin to discuss.

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  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today, the administration unveiled a new $700 million package of weapons for Ukraine. It includes the most advanced rockets yet to be used in that country's conflict with Russia.

    The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, that the U.S. is sending can hit targets 45 miles away, and comes with increased targeting capacity.

    To discuss this, we're joined by Amanda Sloat, senior adviser to the president and senior director for Europe on the National Security Council staff.

    Amanda Sloat, welcome to the "NewsHour."

    Ukraine has been asking for these HIMARS for months. Why are you sending them now?

  • Amanda Sloat, Senior Director For Europe, U.S. National Security Council:

    So we have actually been responding to what Ukraine has been asking for throughout the crisis.

    When the war started in late February, Ukraine's top priorities were anti-tank, anti-armor and anti-aircraft systems. And that's exactly what we provided them. And the Ukrainians used those weapons to great effect to drive the Russians out of Kyiv.

    As the conflict started to move east, the Ukrainians then started asking for howitzers, for artillery. We have provided over 200,000 rounds of artillery and other forms of ammunition. Now that the conflict is continuing in the east and south, the Ukrainians have asked us for these higher-caliber, more precision-targeted weapons, as you said.

    And so we are responding to their requests, as we have throughout the crisis.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Ukrainian officials tell me that they requested this, again, many weeks ago.

    Russia announced its focus on the Donbas in the east on March 25. That's nearly 10 weeks ago. Do you fear this is too little too late, as Russia is making progress in Luhansk?

  • Amanda Sloat:

    No, absolutely not.

    We have seen the Ukrainians fight very effectively over the last number of months with the weapons that we have given them, most notably stopping the Russians from their broad drive across the country and succeeding in the battle of Kyiv.

    Once we got the additional funding from Congress, which was provided on a very solid bipartisan basis, the administration moved quickly in response to the Ukrainians' latest request.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The U.S. is capping the range of the ammunition being provided for these HIMARS. Why is that important, when Ukraine has guaranteed, President Zelenskyy himself guaranteed to President Biden, that Ukraine will not use this ammunition to cross the border and fire into Russia?

  • Amanda Sloat:

    So it is our assessment that, given where the battle is, the state of the battle in the Donbas, that this is the most effective system for the Ukrainians at this stage in the fight.

    Obviously, we will continue to assess the situation, as we have over the last number of months. And, based on conversations that the administration has had with the Ukrainians in the last number of days, as we have rolled out this system, the Ukrainians have told us that they are very satisfied with the degree of assistance that we are providing them.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Those assurances that Ukrainians have provided not to fire into Russia have come from multiple levels in the last few days and weeks.

    What if the war changes, and Kyiv decides that it must use some of these weapons to attack inside Russia?

  • Amanda Sloat:

    I think, as the war continues to evolve, we will continue to look at the types of security assistance that we are providing to Ukraine.

    But if you look at where the conflict is now, it is primarily in the Donbas. It is in the east and the south of the country. It's important to remember that Russia invaded Ukraine. Russia is inside the Ukrainian territory. And so we are continuing to give Ukraine the security tools that they need to defend their country and to repel Russia from their country. And we believe that the addition of these HIMARS to their arsenal is going to enable them to do that more effectively.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Zoom out for a little bit with us.

    To what end are these weapons being provided? The U.S. says that it will let Ukraine define victory. In Ukraine, President Zelenskyy in recent days, as you have seen, has said that he wants to kick Russia out of all of Ukraine, including territory it's been occupying for many years.

    Does the U.S. support Ukraine in that mission?

  • Amanda Sloat:

    So, we have been very clear from the beginning that we were going to support Ukraine in helping them defend their territory.

    This was also what President Biden said to President Putin before the war began, that, if Russia invaded Ukraine, we would continue to give the Ukrainian security assistance above and beyond what we have done. As the president made very clear in the op-ed that he published in The New York Times earlier, one of our overriding objectives in this conflict remains enabling Ukraine to be an independent, sovereign, democratic country.

    And so we're continuing to provide them with security assistance so they can defend their country, they can continue to achieve that aim, and ultimately be in a stronger position on the battlefield, which will enable them to be in a stronger position at the negotiating table when the time comes.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But a stronger position at the battlefield or the negotiating table is a little different than what Zelenskyy has been saying, which is evicting Russia from territory it currently occupies.

  • Amanda Sloat:

    President Zelenskyy himself has acknowledged that there needs to be a negotiated end to this conflict.

    And so what we are continuing to do is give them the weapons that they need on the battlefield and continue to support them when it comes time to serious negotiations when Russia shows that it's ready to do so.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    A senior U.S. official tonight confirms to me that the U.S. is considering sending Gray drones to Ukraine. They can loiter for a while. They can fire Hellfire missiles at specific targets.

    These are sophisticated systems. Who will operate them? And will there be any restrictions on how they're operated?

  • Amanda Sloat:

    So I don't have anything further to announce tonight in terms of additional security assistance that we are providing to Ukraine. But it is accurate that we remain in constant contact with the Ukrainians.

    We continue to get their requests for assistance as the battle continues to evolve, and continue to do what we can, as well as in close cooperation with our international partners, to ensure that they have the equipment that they need to fight effectively.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And I have got about 30 seconds left with you, Amanda Sloat.

    So, any concern that these weapons, as you send increasingly sophisticated weapons to Ukraine, any concern that they might encourage Ukraine to think that they could actually achieve victory on the battlefield, and, therefore, they would be less inclined to negotiate?

  • Amanda Sloat:

    I think, as President Zelenskyy himself has acknowledged, there needs to be a negotiated end to this conflict.

    However, things evolve on the battlefield. And so our primary objective for means as it has been, which is giving Ukraine the tools to defend themselves and continuing to support them once it comes time to negotiations.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Amanda Sloat, special adviser to the president, senior director for Europe on the National Security Council staff, thank you very much.

  • Amanda Sloat:

    Thank you.

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