WASHINGTON - The United States will expand its military aid package to Ukraine to include humvees and small aerial drones, but is still declining to send weapons that have long been requested by Ukrainian officials as their military tangles with separatists with Russian backing and arms.
Vice President Biden informed Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko of the news in a phone call Wednesday. The new aid package includes about 30 armored humvees, 200 other humvees, radios and hand-launched Raven surveillance drones, which are also used by U.S. troops. The news was first reported by the Associated Press.
A senior Obama administration official said that while the White House continues to believe there is no military resolution in Ukraine, the country has the right to defend itself. The new aid package includes $75 million in "nonlethal defensive security assistance," and the new humvees. Also included are secure communications equipment and radars that detect mortar fire.
"This new assistance is part of our ongoing efforts to help sustain Ukraine's defense and internal security operations and resist further aggression," the administration official said.
White House officials said in a statement that Biden and Poroshenko spoke about "the situation in the east, additional nonlethal U.S. security assistance to Ukraine, and new sanctions on Russian-backed separatists and their supporters."
Biden added that he remains concerned about ongoing violations of a cease-fire by the separatists near Donetsk and Mariupol, areas that have at times seen fierce fighting.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate last week that he is open to sending U.S. weapons to Ukraine, joining a growing number of senior American officials who say Kiev may need lethal aid from the United States.
President Obama has so far resisted that idea, even as new Russian tanks and artillery cross the border into Ukraine.