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Massive military aid package to Ukraine signals U.S. is in war for the long-haul

DON GONYEA, HOST:

To mark six months of the war in Ukraine, President Biden announced the largest single military aid package for Ukraine yet - $3 billion. For a look at how this could shape the conflict in the days ahead, we're joined by NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. Hi, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Don.

GONYEA: So what is the U.S. hoping to achieve with this very large aid package?

MYRE: Well, it's significant for a number of reasons. The first is just the size. This war is consuming resources at a ferocious pace. And so this is $3 billion, mostly in weapons. The largest tranche previously was about $1,000,000,000. And while the U.S. has been rolling out this assistance every few weeks, the aim has really been Ukraine's immediate war needs - short-range missiles to stop Russian tanks or longer-range artillery to counter Russia's superior firepower. But in this package, the Pentagon really took a step back and said, what does Ukraine need to sustain itself on the battlefield in the months or even years ahead? Here's Colin Kahl, a Pentagon official, explaining the thinking.

COLIN KAHL: Vladimir Putin seems to believe that Russia can win the long game, outlasting the Ukrainians in their will to fight and the international community's will to continue to support Ukraine. This USAI package is a tangible demonstration that this is yet another Russian miscalculation.

GONYEA: OK. I understand this package contains a wide range of weapons, but did anything stand out to you in particular?

MYRE: Yeah, there was one. It's an anti-aircraft system called NASAMS, and it's intended to shoot down Russian warplanes that enter Ukrainian skies. Now, remember, early in the war, Ukraine pleaded with NATO to create a no-fly zone and NATO refused. Well, Ukraine has surprised everyone by making the most of its very limited air force. Ukraine has shot down so many Russian planes that the Russians have essentially stopped flying in Ukrainian airspace. And now the U.S. is providing this very advanced system. It's actually the same one that's used to defend the White House and other key government buildings in Washington. The Ukrainians will need training on this, but it reflects this longer-term planning to strengthen Ukraine's military.

GONYEA: But can these new weapons actually change the trajectory of the war?

MYRE: You know, Don, it's impossible to say. It's been a very unpredictable war so far. But for the past two months, since the end of June, the front lines really haven't budged much at all. And that said, there are a couple of things worth noting. Ukraine is now effectively using an advanced artillery system that fires rockets very precisely for up to 50 miles. So Ukraine is striking far behind Russian lines. They're hitting bridges and ammunition depots and supply lines, things they just couldn't do before, and it's putting the Russians on their heels. And Ukraine wants to launch a big counteroffensive on the southern city of Kherson, which Russia captured early in the war. Ukraine wants to show that it can do more than just defend, that it can actually take back territory.

GONYEA: The big U.S. package should seemingly reassure the Ukrainians, but doesn't it also further support that notion that this is just going to be a long war?

MYRE: Yeah, it really does. You know, we're now six months in, and neither side appears capable of a real knockout blow. You know, Russia has made advances. But these have been incremental gains, and they've come at a huge cost. And now we're seeing the Russians, by their own admission, taking a pause, no longer making a major push in the east of the country. And Ukraine, on the other hand, has given the Russians a much tougher fight than anyone expected. But Russia controls about 20% of Ukrainian territory, and President Zelenskyy and many Ukrainians say they're simply not willing to cede any land to Russia.

GONYEA: That's NPR's Greg Myre. Greg, thank you.

MYRE: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.
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