US approves transfer of US weapons from allies to Ukraine

By Kylie Atwood, Jennifer Hansler and Alex Marquardt, CNN

The State Department has told Congress it has approved export licenses for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania that will allow countries to transfer US-sourced weapons to Ukraine, according to a report. administration official, a State Department official, and a congressional aide familiar with the matter. .

The move comes as the Biden administration warns that Russia could invade Ukraine at any time, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Kremlin plans to send more troops to Ukraine’s border.

The approvals – which have come in recent days – are a signal that the United States is seeking to inflict a higher cost on Russian President Vladimir Putin if he goes ahead with the invasion. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday he expected Putin to “move in” to Ukraine.

The weapons include highly sought-after American anti-aircraft weapon systems from Latvia and Lithuania that would help Ukraine fend off Russian aircraft that some officials and experts say would pave the way for the early stages of a Russian invasion. Estonia has received permission to transfer Javelin anti-tank guided missile systems, which the United States has supplied to Ukraine in the past.

It’s unclear when the weapons will arrive in Ukraine, the senior administration official said, the timing – as well as the price for Ukraine – would depend on which countries received approval.

The Biden administration is also working to transfer five Russian-made helicopters to Ukrainian control, the same official said. A notification was sent to Congress for the helicopters, the Mi-17s, which are already in Ukraine for maintenance after being withdrawn from Afghanistan during the withdrawal there.

The State Department cited close coordination with European countries and Ukraine when asked about the transfer of export licenses.

“European allies have what they need to move forward with additional security assistance to Ukraine in the days and weeks ahead,” a State Department spokesperson said. “We are in close contact with our Ukrainian partners and our NATO allies on this matter, and we are using all available tools of security cooperation, including the acceleration of authorized transfers of equipment of American origin. other allies and partners through our third-party transfer process and excess. Defense items from DoD inventories, among other mechanisms.

Earlier this week, Blinken visited Ukraine where Ukrainian officials thanked him for US security assistance. But the Ukrainians have also regularly sought additional military support.

In late December, the Biden administration quietly approved $200 million in additional security assistance to Ukraine, which authorized the shipment of defensive equipment including small arms and ammunition, four people confirmed to CNN. close to the case at the time.

But after multiple diplomatic meetings between US, NATO, European and Russian officials ended last week without any significant breakthrough, the Biden administration has begun to weigh in more military support for the country. Ukraine amid more warning signs that Russia was preparing for an invasion. Biden has ruled out sending US combat troops to Ukraine to defend the country from a Russian invasion.

Russia has amassed about 100,000 troops on the border it shares with Ukraine, which Blinken said on Wednesday Russia could double in “relatively short order.” Russia also plans to conduct joint military exercises with Kremlin ally Belarus, raising fresh concerns from Ukraine over the emergence of a potential new frontline along its northern border.

This story has been updated.

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CNN’s Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.