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Pentagon Weighs New Plan to Ship Weapons to Ukraine Quickly

The Biden administration is considering whether to provide Ukraine with badly needed arms and ammunition from Pentagon stockpiles even though the government has run out of money to replace those munitions, according to two U.S. officials and a senior lawmaker.

Such a move would be a short-term measure to help tide over Ukraine’s armed forces until Congress breaks a monthslong impasse and approves a larger military aid package to the country, the officials said.

But in considering whether to tap into the Pentagon stockpiles again, the administration is weighing both the political risks and questions about American military readiness.

“It’s something that I know is on the table,” Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who leads the Armed Services Committee, said in an interview. Mr. Reed, who recently returned from a trip to Ukraine, said he would support such a stopgap measure in “incremental uses to buy time.”

The United States has provided Ukraine with some $44.2 billion in military aid since Russia launched its full-scale invasion two years ago.

About half that amount has been sent under what is called presidential drawdown authority. That allows the administration to immediately transfer Pentagon stocks to Ukraine instead of waiting the several months or years it can take for defense contractors to manufacture weapons under new contracts. The last shipment was in December.

The administration still has authority from Congress to draw down about $4 billion worth of weapons and ammunition. But it exhausted a separate fund in December that replenished munitions the United States had donated to Ukraine. Pentagon and White House officials have said since then that they were not prepared to risk U.S. military readiness to dip into Defense Department stockpiles without being able to replace them.

That thinking is changing, mainly because of Ukraine’s increasingly dire predicament on the battlefield. Outmanned and outgunned, Ukrainian ground forces are running out of artillery, air defense weaponry and other munitions, Western officials and analysts say, and they are in perhaps their most precarious position since the opening months of the war.

In mid-February, Ukraine withdrew from the eastern city of Avdiivka, the country’s first major battlefield loss since the fall of Bakhmut last year. The Biden administration blamed the retreat on the failure by Congress to provide additional money to support Kyiv’s war effort.

The Senate passed an emergency aid bill including $60.1 billion for Ukraine. But the measure faces an uncertain fate in the House of Representatives, where Speaker Mike Johnson has indicated that he does not intend to put it to a vote.

Some officials fear that drawing down Defense Department inventories now would take the pressure off Congress to act on the longer-term aid package.

It would also expose the administration to criticism from Republican opponents of aid to Ukraine that such a move without replenishing Pentagon stocks would hurt the United States at a time of hostilities in the Middle East and growing tensions with China.

At least for now, the administration is not publicly discussing the drawdown option, which CNN reported earlier. Instead it is bearing down on the $60.1 billion aid bill.

“We are focused on urging the House of Representatives to pass the national security supplemental package as soon as possible,” Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said in response to questions from The New York Times. “Ukraine needs the full resources in that package, and Speaker Johnson should put it to a vote, where it would overwhelmingly pass, since there is no other way to fully meet Ukraine’s needs.”

Military officials say they are ready to rush artillery ammunition, air defense interceptors and other arms to Ukraine as soon as they get the green light.

“We are still meeting every day, still tracking everything that we would need to be able to send once that gets approved,” Lt. Gen. Leonard J. Kosinski, the logistics director for the military’s Joint Staff, said on Wednesday at a conference about Ukraine.

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