WASHINGTON, Dec 21 (Reuters) – The United States will provide $1.85 billion in additional military assistance for Ukraine, including a transfer of the Patriot Air Defense System, President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday.
The announcement came as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy arrived in Washington to meet Biden and address Congress in his first known overseas trip since Russia invaded Ukraine 300 days ago.
The Patriot system is “a defensive system, it’s not escalatory, it’s defensive” Biden said in a joint news briefing with Zelenskiy. “We’d love not to have them used, just stop the attacks,” Biden added.
The assistance includes a $1 billion drawdown to provide Ukraine with “expanded air defense and precision-strike capabilities” and $850 million in security assistance, Blinken said in a separate statement.
The Patriot is considered to be one of the most advanced U.S. air defense systems and offers protection against aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles. It typically includes launchers along with radar and other support vehicles.
Zelenskiy on Wednesday said the U.S. promise to provide the Patriot surface-to-air missile defense system was an important step in creating an effective air shield.
Russia said last week that U.S. plans to supply Patriot missile defense systems to Ukraine were a “provocation” and a further expansion of U.S. military involvement in the Ukraine conflict.
The Kremlin had said that if delivered, U.S. Patriot missile defense systems would be a legitimate target for Russian strikes against Ukraine.
“Today’s assistance for the first time includes the Patriot Air Defense System, capable of bringing down cruise missiles, short range ballistic missiles, and aircraft at a significantly higher ceiling than previously provided air defense systems,” Blinken said in the statement released by the U.S. State Department.
The Pentagon said the aid package would also include ammunition for high-mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS), precision-guided artillery rounds and precision aerial munitions.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, the United States has committed about $21.2 billion in military assistance to Kyiv.
Zelenskiy said earlier that his U.S. visit was meant to strengthen Ukraine’s “resilience and defense capabilities” amid repeated Russian missile and drone attacks on the country’s energy and water supplies in the dead of winter.
Reporting by Kanishka Singh and Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Leslie Adler and Alistair Bell