Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on U.S. Security Assistance to Ukraine
7:49 P.M. EDT
MODERATOR: Good evening, everyone. Thank you for joining the National Security Council background call this evening on Ukraine security assistance.
As a reminder of the ground rules, this call will be on background and the speakers will be attributable to “senior administration officials.” The contents of the call will be embargoed until the end of the call.
For your awareness but not for your reporting, our speakers this evening are [senior administration officials].
I’ll kick it over to our speakers to do opening remarks. And after that, we’ll do Q&A.
[Senior administration official], over to you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. And thanks, everybody, for listening.
Tonight, the President published an op-ed in the New York Times on how the United States has rallied much of the world to support Ukraine with unprecedented military, humanitarian, and financial assistance in the face of Russian aggression.
In his piece, the President lays out the aims of the United States as the war goes on and as we near the 100-day mark since Russia’s latest invasion of Ukraine.
Our goal is straightforward: We want to secure a democratic, independent, sovereign, and prosperous Ukraine with the means to deter and defend itself against further aggression.
To do that, we will continue to provide the Ukrainians with weapons and equipment, including more advanced rocket systems, so they can defend themselves the battlefield and so they are in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table.
Since the President took office, we have committed an historic amount of security assistance to Ukraine, which they have been using effectively to defend their democracy. The United States has been the single-largest provider of security assistance to Ukraine since the conflict began. And just to remind people, that is more than $5 billion in security assistance since this administration came to office and more than $4.5 billion in security assistance since the start of the latest Russian invasion of Ukraine for a country that has an annual defense budget of about $6 billion.
We have brought together a coalition of nearly 40 countries, including through Secretary Austin’s Defense Consultative Group. These countries are providing security assistance to Ukraine. And tomorrow, we’ll be announcing the 11th package of security assistance under the Presidential Drawdown Authority.
As the President wrote in the piece I mentioned, that package will contain longer-range systems, specifically HIMARS and munitions that will enable the Ukrainians to more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield from a greater distance inside Ukraine and to help them repel Russian advances.
These systems will be used by the Ukrainians to repel Russian advances on Ukrainian territory, but they will not be used against targets in Russian territory.
The second objective the President outlined in the op-ed is that we do not seek a war between NATO and Russia. The President has been clear we will not be directly engaged in this conflict, either by sending American troops to fight in Ukraine or by attacking Russian forces.
What we are doing is exactly what President Biden told President Putin and what President Biden said publicly many times we would do if President Putin attacked Ukraine, and that is provide security assistance to the Ukrainians that is “above and beyond” what we were already providing to help defend their country.
To that end, we are not encouraging or enabling Ukraine to strike beyond its borders. We do not seek to prolong the war just to inflict pain on Russia.
This conflict has resulted in immense human suffering as a result of Russia’s unprovoked aggression. Russian forces continue to terrorize much of Ukraine and have committed war crimes and atrocities against the Ukrainian people, as we have described many times.
We want to see Russia end its war on Ukraine as quickly as possible, and we’ve been supportive of Ukraine’s efforts to engage in negotiations to end the conflict.
As President Zelenskyy has said, ultimately, this war — and I’ll quote him — “will only definitively end through diplomacy.”
But Ukraine’s talks with Russia are not stalled now because Ukraine has turned its back on diplomacy; the Russians have actually shown no interest in good faith negotiations so far. And so, we will not pressure the Ukrainian government, in private or in public, to make any territorial concessions.
One thing that’s worth pointing out is that every negotiation reflects the facts on the ground, which is a big part of why we will continue to strengthen Ukraine’s hand on the battlefield so they are in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table, as I said.
The final objective the President laid out in his op-ed is that we want to ensure a peaceful and stable Europe and a peaceful and stable international order.
That international order must not be weakened. If Russia does not pay a heavy price for its actions, it would send a message to other would-be aggressors that they too can seize territory by force, and subjugate other countries to their will. It would put the survival of other peaceful democracies at risk, and it could mark the end of the rules-based international order and open the door to aggression elsewhere with catastrophic consequences around the world.
As the President wrote, “Standing by Ukraine in its hour of need is not just the right thing to do. It is in our vital national interests to ensure a peaceful and stable Europe and to make [it] clear that might does not make right.”
Now I’ll turn over to my colleague to share more details about what is in the security assistance package coming tomorrow, and then we can answer any questions that you have.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hey, [senior administration official], thank you very much. And so, just a couple of short points to build upon what [senior administration official] said.
As he highlighted, this is the 11th tranche of our security assistance provided through the PDA authority. And as [senior administration official] said, the requirements that we’ve heard from the Ukrainians come in a multitude of ways — through senior — senior-leader engagements. It’s been codified at Secretary Austin’s Consultative Group meetings, which continue. And we had the most recent one about a week ago in which the 40-plus countries were represented by ministers of defense and chiefs of defense, and the Ukrainians were once again able to describe the situation on the battlefield but also put a marker down for their top 13 different requirements.
As [senior administration official] said, we are and the President has been clear: We’re committed to continuing to provide security assistance to the Ukrainians as they defend their country. And that’s why, you know, a short 10-plus days ago, as Congress passed the supplemental, we were able to work this PDA number 11.
I would also highlight for you that the Ukrainians had told us, in the middle of April and continuing through May, that they needed artillery, and so that became mission number one to try to get as much artillery into Ukrainian hands as possible.
And PDAs 7 through 10 included 108 American M777 how- — 155-millimeter howitzers and over 200,000 rounds of ammunition, which nearly all had been delivered to the Ukrainians. But it also opened the door for other members of the Consultative Group to also provide additional artillery, which is being provided to the Ukrainians, in which they’re also being trained.
So what are the highlights of this upcoming package which will be talked about in much more detail tomorrow? But a couple of highlights. As [senior administration official] said, you know, HIMARS — or High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems and ammunition; counterfire radars; a number of air surveillance radars; additional Javelins, as well as anti-armor weapons; additional artillery rounds to continue assist in the — the over 200,000 which have already been provided; a number of helicopters; some additional tactical vehicles; and, equally important, a spare parts package and additional equipment to help the Ukrainians continue with the maintenance of the systems, particularly the artillery systems that have been provided.
And with that, I guess we can go to questions or any edifications that [senior administration official] wants to make my comments.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m good here.
Q A couple of quick questions. One is: What’s the dollar figure for the entire package that will be unveiled tomorrow?
And then, second, if I understand the HIMARS correctly, it’s also capable of firing a longer-range missile system. What assurances are — what — could, potentially, the Ukrainians be able to use this system to fire longer-range missiles? Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: [Senior administration official], do you want to take the first one?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. Yeah, so the first question is: It’s a $700 million package. And if you remember — just to give you, again, kind of a measuring stick — the last PDA was for about $100 million. The previous one was for 150 [million]. PDA number eight, which was approved in early April, was about 800 million.
So, again, this is the first in — this is the first PDA package in the new supplemental.
Back to you, [senior administration official].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And the only thing I’d add on the second part of your question is that we are giving the Ukrainians a range of capabilities that we think are commensurate with the fight that they’re in on the battlefield and the conditions that exist today. And at this time, we’ve decided not to provide the longer-range munitions that you’ve described and have communicated that to the Ukrainians.
Q Hi, can you hear me?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q Oh, good. Thank you very much for taking my question. Can you characterize the difference that the HIMARS will make for us — you know, for people who might not be, you know, intensely military specialists? What will this — what will this change for the Ukrainian military? Is it too much to say it’s any sort of “game changer”? What is it? Is it a “leveler”? What’ll it do? What would it change? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: [Senior administration official], do you want to start?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, I can — I can start. So, the range of the munitions that we’re providing with the HIMARS allows the Ukrainians to range out to about 80 kilometers. The way to think about that is, you know, about 40 — about 40-some — 48 miles, roughly, if I’m doing my calculations correct.
And it ideally gives the Ukrainians a bit of — a bit of precise and precision munitions to apply for — to and towards unique targets.
[Senior administration official], to you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. I guess the only thing I’d add, just to kind of take a step back, is: In every stage of this conflict, we have tried to make an assessment of what would be the most beneficial security assistance we can provide to the Ukrainians, based on the conditions they face on the battlefield and the requirements that they have identified for us.
So, at first, as you all remember, that meant really intensely focusing on anti-armor and anti-air systems, which we believe enabled Ukraine to win the Battle for Kyiv in the early days of this recent Russian invasion.
As the conflict shifted to the East, our top priority and their top priority was (inaudible) artillery systems and munitions for those systems to the front — 108 howitzer artillery systems over the last two PDAs. Most of those systems now (inaudible).
We, also, by the way, during that period, helped them obtain a significant number of former Soviet and former Russian MLRS systems from partners and allies that they’re using in the fight as well.
We’re now transferring a U.S. MLRS systems to enhance Ukraine’s ability to defend their territory. And as the conflict evolves, we’re going to continue to tailor our assistance to their most urgent needs.
So, that has been the approach that we followed, and this is very consistent with — with that period.
Q Hi, guys. Thanks. Just a question, again, about the assurances that the Ukrainians wouldn’t be able to use these to fire deep into Russia. I mean, I’m no expert, but if you took the thing to the border with Russia and fired it towards Russia, wouldn’t it go 48 miles into Russia? And so, you know, have the — have the Ukrainians, as a condition of receiving the equipment, provided some assurances that they wouldn’t be doing that, even if they’re not getting the longer-range that can go more like 180 miles or what have you?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, look, I think, first, it’s important to point out that it is Russia that is attacking inside Ukraine, not the other way around. The is a Russian assault on a sovereign country. And I think that can’t be stated enough, because it’s definitely a Russian goal to obfuscate that fact.
I will say, though, in direct response to your question, the Ukrainians have given us assurances that they will not use these systems against targets in Russian territory. And so, based on those assurances, we’re very comfortable that they will not.
Q Hi, thanks. Just following up on that, is this the first time that the U.S. has provided some kind of a weapon system or any kind of equipment that it’s had essentially a restriction on it for how it can or where it can be used by the Ukrainians in — since the invasion, in this particular part of the conflict?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can take that one, [senior administration official].
So, beyond what I just just described in terms of assurances that we got from Ukrainians, I’m not going to get into any further operational discussions that we’ve had with them about how they will or won’t use the systems they’re being provided.
Q So, this is not the first time? I know there’s been some kind of a restriction or got — or rules that have been placed on the transfer of a weapon system or any kind of equipment.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What I’m saying is, beyond the — again, the assurance that I just described, I’m not going to get into any other restrictions, assurances, or
anything else that may or may not have been provided by the Ukrainians.
MODERATOR: Thank you. And thank you all for joining us this evening. As a reminder, this call was on background, attributable to “senior administration officials.” And the embargo on the contents of the call is now lifted since we’re at the call’s conclusion.
Thank you, everyone.
8:06 P.M. EDT