Ukraine shows off new US weapons, in signal to Russia

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YAVORIV, Ukraine — As television cameras rolled, a Ukrainian soldier lifted an American-made missile launcher onto his shoulder and pressed a red button. The missile sped and blew a target – a pile of tires – to smithereens.

For more than two months after Russia began its military buildup near Ukraine last fall, the United States remained silent about its military aid to Kiev, merely acknowledging the shipment of weapons whose delivery was long planned.

That has changed now. American cargo planes carrying weapons and ammunition openly arrive at Borispol airport in Kiev. And the Ukrainian army is keen to show the media these newly delivered weapons in a military training area.

In the past two weeks, seven US cargo planes carrying a total of around 585 tons of military assistance have landed in Kyiv. After the last plane Arrived on Thursday, the Ukrainian Defense Minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, posted on Twitter, “this is not the end! To be continued!”

In addition to small arms ammunition, the aircraft also delivered a significant number of missiles to Ukraine. These include the Javelin anti-tank missiles, which the United States has supplied to Ukraine since 2018.

It also included a shoulder-launched type of American-made missile that can blow up sandbag fortifications and destroy partially buried bunkers. On Friday, Ukrainian soldiers fired 10 of the so-called “bunker breakers” for international media, including a Japanese TV crew.

For critics of Ukraine’s arms policy, this weapon seems provocative. In Ukraine, nearly half of respondents to a survey published on Wednesday said they thought Western weapons would deter Russia, but a third said they thought it would do the opposite – provoke an attack. The Russian government has opposed arms transfers and Germany is strongly against them.

“I don’t think it’s realistic to believe that such arms exports could reverse the military imbalance,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said during a visit to Kyiv on Monday.

Ukraine’s policy of publicly displaying new weapons adds to their deterrent value, said Maria Zolkina, political analyst at the Democratic Initiatives Foundation. The media events, she said, will help “bust the myth that an unprotected Ukraine is an easy catch for Russia.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the arms airlifts strengthen Ukraine’s hand in relations with Russia.

“The stronger Ukraine, the lower the risks of further Russian aggression,” he said in a video conference call with reporters this week. “The more defensive weapons we have today, the less we will need to use them.”

The United States is not the only country to have armed Ukraine as part of the airlifts that began last month. The UK sent around 2,000 light anti-tank missiles. With the United States’ endorsement, the Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have declared that they would transfer Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, filling gaps in Ukraine’s weak air defenses. Poland also said it would send anti-aircraft missiles.

During the firing demonstration from the American bunkers, only Ukrainian soldiers handled the weapon. They had taken a three-day course taught by instructors from the Florida National Guard’s 53rd Infantry Brigade. The Americans stood aside, refusing to appear on camera.

The launch tube and missile weigh about 15 pounds and look like a small green log. When a missile was fired, the sound of blast rattled dishes on a picnic table set up to provide snacks to visiting journalists. Ukrainian soldiers cheered as missiles hit tire targets and exploded in a red flash.

“It’s very simple, just a gimmick,” said Ivan, a 25-year-old Ukrainian staff sergeant now trained in firing the new missile, who declined to give his last name for security reasons. The soldiers also covered their faces with balaclavas to protect their identity.

But the training itself was simple, Ivan said. “A boy or girl of any age can pull it. It’s like an iPhone.

Andrew E. Kramer contributed reporting in Kyiv.

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