US Congress to vote on $600-million military contract with Ukraine

The United States Congress will vote on the sale of $600 million of equipment to bolster Ukrainian maritime capabilities in the Black Sea and the Azov Sea after July 17.

This modern equipment — including Mark VI Patrol Boats, Seahawk gun systems and FLIR Radar systems — will help the Ukrainian government protect its southern maritime flank.

The arrival of the equipment, which Zelensky has said is crucial to the Ukrainian government’s plans to modernise Ukraine’s naval capacity, will also be subject to further negotiation and scrutiny after its expected approval by Congress.

The U.S. State Department already approved the plans for the sale about a month ago, but the proposal is still awaiting approval by Congress. Congress must be notified about major arms sales valued at more than $14 million at least 30 days beforehand in order to put the bill to a vote.

This large military contract comes shortly after the announcement that Ukraine would become a NATO Enhanced Opportunities Partner, which should offer “tailor-made opportunities” for the Ukrainian military.

News of the contract comes amid fears that aggressive military powers may seek to capitalise on the COVID-19 pandemic and lack of military preparation to launch fresh offensives. Russia’s build-up of troops on the Crimean peninsula, which is illegally annexed in 2014, has already raised concerns.

“Ukraine’s military has an urgent need to strengthen its capabilities to patrol and police their exclusive economic zone, territorial waters, and protect other maritime interests due to persistent maritime threats posed by the Russia-led forces in eastern Ukraine and surrounding waters and the credible threat of Russian conventional military maritime attack,” an anonymous State Department official told U.S. magazine Defense News.

In June, the U.S Embassy in Kyiv confirmed the arrival of over $60 million worth of equipment — including radios, ammunition and Javelin missiles — as part of its efforts to maintain military support during the COVID-19 crisis.

In 2019, U.S. President Donald Trump attempted to withhold around $400 million of military aid to Ukraine, but later backed down.

In December, the Los Angeles Times reported that $20 million of an initial $250 million installment had yet to be received. 

In a speech delivered in Odesa on July 5, President Zelensky expressed his desire to establish a new Neptune Missile System to compliment the arrival of the new U.S. equipment.

“Its adoption will make us an even stronger player in the waters of the Black and Azov Seas,” Zelensky said.

According to Anton Mikhnenko, the editor-in-chief of the Ukrainian Defence Review Magazine, Zelesnky’s speech demonstrated his intention to build fully fledged Naval Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The U.S. plays a crucial role in Ukraine’s plans for modernization, the expert added.

Ukraine has become the de facto eastern flank of NATO, sitting on a potential flashpoint for future conflict: There are currently reported to be 1,100 Russian tanks and 330 warplanes along the border with Ukraine as Russia conducts military exercises.

The Black and Azov seas are a crucial site for deterring Russian invasion. The 2018 Kerch Strait incident — when Russia took 24 Ukrainian sailors prisoner and held them in custody until a prisoner exchange in September 2019 — highlighted Russia’s aggressive posturing in the region and the need to modernise Ukraine’s naval capabilities to deter Russian aggression.

(c) Kyiv Post

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