KABUL: The Biden administration is considering a plan to redirect helicopters and other military equipment once allocated for Afghanistan’s previous government’s military to Ukraine to help quickly reinforce its defenses amid a buildup of Russian troops near its border, U.S. and Ukrainian officials said.
The equipment is being sought by Ukraine, which discussed it with Pentagon officials, who generally support providing more arms to Ukraine. The National Security Council has yet to approve the arms delivery while the administration seeks a diplomatic solution to get Moscow to back off its military pressure campaign, the U.S. officials said.
The military kit previously earmarked for the Afghan National Security Forces includes Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters, U.S. officials said. The helicopters would provide more mobility for Ukrainian forces, which have a large front to defend and lost aircraft in clashes in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and pro-Moscow separatists rebelled in Ukraine’s east.
Ukrainian officials have also been lobbying the administration for air-defense systems, including Stinger surface-to-air missiles, that would help them defend their country against Russian aircraft, a Ukrainian official said. The country currently uses Soviet-era systems, which have been modernized but lag behind some of the high-tech equipment used by the Russian military.
A spokesman for the National Security Council declined to discuss what new weapons might be under consideration and pointed to the $2.5 billion in military aid the U.S. has provided Ukraine since 2014, including $450 million in support that is being sent this year.
With intelligence estimates saying Moscow’s troop buildup near Ukraine could reach full strength next month, the Biden administration is debating how to pursue diplomacy with Moscow and balance that with augmenting Ukraine’s military capabilities. For years, the U.S. has sought to walk a fine line by providing so-called lethal aid to Ukraine, such as antitank Javelin missiles, without provoking Moscow.