Ukrainian forces are running out of ammunition in their fight against Russia, with Moscow using that shortfall as a chance to probe weaknesses in Kyiv’s military, a senior Pentagon official said Tuesday.
With U.S. military assistance to Ukraine dried up as of December — a symptom of Congress being unable to pass President Biden’s emergency funding request for the embattled country — officials there “believe that units do not have the stocks and stores of ammunition that they require,” according to Celeste Wallander, the Defense Department official in charge of international security affairs.
Biden in October requested nearly $61.5 billion to help supply Ukraine with weapons and replenish U.S. stocks, funding meant to offer a fresh surge of assistance as DOD neared the end of money earlier allotted by Congress.
But with Ukraine coffers since running empty and Congress bitterly locked over new security policies for the southern border, Washington has been unable to send direly needed lethal assistance to Kyiv at the same levels as the past two years, Wallander said.
“That is one of the reasons we have been focusing on the need to answer Congress’s questions so that they are able to move forward on a decision to pass a supplemental,” she added.
The last U.S. weapons package to Ukraine was announced nearly a month ago, on Dec. 27, and included $250 million in artillery, air defenses and other weapons and equipment.
Asked whether the lack of consistent aid packages was creating shortfalls for Ukraine, Wallander said officials have reported that the change in pace and volume of the aid tranches “did affect their planning and their operations” this past fall.
Other than ammunition, Ukraine also needs artillery shells and interceptors to defend against the Russian drones and missiles, Wallander noted.
What’s more, Russia has taken notice of the gap and employed a surge of missile and drone attacks against Ukraine.
“We’ve seen them not only continue to use ballistic missiles and cruise missiles and [drones], but we have seen periods in which they are using coordinated barrages of those capabilities,” Wallander said.
Case in point, earlier on Tuesday, Kremlin forces fired 41 missiles at Ukrainian cities, according to Kyiv’s air force.
She said there were two intentions to this method — to try to overwhelm Ukrainian defense capabilities in a particular location and seek to force the Ukrainians to use up the already limited ammunition and air defenses they have.
“They’ve not succeeded so far. The Ukrainians have a lot of experience over the last two years in how to cope with these kinds of Russian assaults,” she added.
Wallander spoke to reporters after the U.S.-led Ukraine Defense Contact Group met virtually. The group is made up of Western military and defense chiefs with the goal of aiding Ukraine, with major assistance packages typically announced after each meeting. That did not happen this time, however, as Biden’s supplemental request languishes in Congress.
And later on Tuesday, Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters the lack of funding has forced the building to “pause” sending additional weapons from its inventories “given the implications for our own military readiness.”
“This, of course, prevents us from meeting Ukraine’s most urgent battlefield needs to include things like artillery rounds, anti-tank weapons, air defense interceptors. Ryder said.
In addition, no extra funding means DOD can’t give Ukraine the systems and equipment needed for medium- and longer-term requirements, nor help them sustain the systems the United States has already given them, he added.
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