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US announces $1.85bn arms package for Ukraine, including Patriot missile

A Patriot missile launcher seen in Poland in March. (AP Photo)

The United States on Wednesday announced it will provide Ukraine with the advanced Patriot air defense system as part of a new $1.85 billion military package to the war-ravaged country.

The announcement came in parallel with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Washington, his first overseas trip since Russia launched a military operation in Ukraine in late February.

The new military assistance comes after repeated requests from Kiev for the Patriot system, which many experts believe could be a risky proposition. 

"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," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

Made by US aerospace and military conglomerate Raytheon, the MIM-104 Patriot is a surface-to-air missile (SAM) system initially developed to intercept high-flying aircraft.

The system was modified in the 1980s to focus on the new threat of tactical ballistic missiles.

Reports about the US plans to supply the Patriot system to Ukraine had been doing rounds for several weeks amid Russia’s rapid territorial gains in Ukraine and the escalation of ground and aerial fighting.

The new package was unveiled as Zelenskiy headed to Washington on Wednesday to meet President Joe Biden, address Congress and seek "weapons, weapons, and more weapons".

"President Biden will announce a significant new package of nearly $2 billion of security assistance for Ukraine," the White House statement said in a statement on Tuesday ahead of the visit.

“It will contain a very important new capability: a Patriot missile battery, which will be a critical asset to defend the Ukrainian people against Russia’s barbaric attacks on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure.”

Zelensky said the visit was meant to strengthen Ukraine's "resilience and defense capabilities" amid repeated Russian missile and drone attacks on the country.

"Unlike the other Western systems that have been provided to Ukraine, (Patriot) has some anti-ballistic missile capabilities (depending on the type of missile being used)," Karl Mueller, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, was quoted as saying by AFP.

The supply of Patriot systems comes despite repeated warnings by Moscow that it will prolong the war.

Last week, Russia said it would amount to "provocation" and a further expansion of the United States military involvement in the Ukraine conflict.

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that Moscow was recommending Washington "draw the right conclusions" from Moscow's warnings that US-supplied military equipment would become “legitimate targets” for Russian missile strikes.

“Many experts have doubted the wisdom of such a step, which leads to the escalation of the conflict,” the ministry’s spokeswoman, Zakharova told reporters.

The Kremlin warned Wednesday that increasing the supply of US  arms to Ukraine would aggravate the war, and Russia’s defense minister called for expanding Moscow’s military by at least 500,000 people.

Speaking at a meeting with Russian military officials, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the country is facing the “military potential and capabilities of almost all major NATO countries” in Ukraine, adding that this will not stop Moscow from achieving its objectives.

He said “all information about NATO forces [and] the means which are actively being used against us during the special military operation, are well known,” and that it should be “carefully analyzed and used” to boost the combat capabilities of Russia’s armed forces and security agencies.

Russia launched a military operation in Ukraine in late February, following Kiev’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements and Moscow’s recognition of the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

At the time, Russian President Vladimir Putin said one of the goals of what he called a “special military operation” was to “de-Nazify” Ukraine.

Since the outbreak of war, the United States and its Western allies have supplied many shipments of heavy weaponry to Ukraine, despite Russia’s warnings that it will only prolong the war.

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