February 20, 2023

Biden, on surprise visit to Kyiv, announces $500 million in artillery shells, anti-tank missiles to Ukraine

Institute for the Study of War

US President Joe Biden visited Kyiv on February 20 ahead of the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Biden met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and announced that the US will provide an additional $500 million in military assistance to Ukraine, including howitzer shells, anti-tank missiles, air surveillance radars, and other aid. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated that the Biden administration notified Moscow of Biden’s visit shortly before his departure for Ukraine for “deconfliction purposes.” Biden’s visit and the timing of his trip to Europe clearly signal continued Western support for Ukraine following concerted Russian efforts to deter Western military aid and political support.

Ukrainian officials continue to respond to statements made by unspecified US defense officials on the pace and prospects of the war as it approaches the one-year mark. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated on February 20 that Ukraine will continue to defend Bakhmut but “not at any cost.” Zelensky and Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov also emphasized that Ukrainian troops are continuing to prepare for counteroffensives in the near term. Zelensky and Reznikov’s statements are likely direct responses to unspecified US defense officials, who reportedly told the Washington Post on February 14 that the United States is concerned about Ukraine’s ability to defend Bakhmut while also pursuing counteroffensive operations. ISW continues to assess that Ukraine’s decision to defend Bakhmut is a strategically sound effort to pin Russian forces in a discrete area of the front and attrit them, Zelensky likely tempered his administration’s stance on Bakhmut to make a limited rhetorical concession to US officials. It has long been clear that Ukraine would not continue to defend Bakhmut at the risk of seeing large numbers of Ukrainian troops encircled in the city, so Zelensky’s comment is not likely a real change in Kyiv’s strategy.

Key Takeaways

  • US President Joe Biden visited Kyiv on February 20 ahead of the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine signaling continued US commitment to supporting Ukraine in its efforts to liberate its territory.
  • Ukrainian officials continue to respond to statements made by unspecified US defense officials on the pace and prospects of the war as it approaches the one-year mark.
  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced the formal integration of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics’ (DNR/LNR) militias into the Russian Armed Forces on February 19 in response to growing criticism about reported command changes within the proxy units.
  • The decision to reorganize the DNR and LNR militias amidst an ongoing offensive likely indicates that the Russian MoD does not understand the scale of the challenges of integrating irregular forces into a professional military during intensive combat operations.
  • The restructuring of proxy militias suggests that the Russian military command is trying to achieve all its desired reforms while the Russian MoD has the favor of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
  • The Russian military command has likely cut off Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin’s independent access to artillery shells and heavy weaponry as part of the effort to professionalize the Russian conventional forces.
  • Prigozhin may have misrepresented the devastating impact of the lack of artillery ammunition on Wagner to mask his true frustrations with Wagner’s inability to have and operate its own artillery systems.
  • Chechen Republic head Kadyrov likely attempted to assuage Prigozhin’s possible anger at Kadyrov’s likely refusal to join Prigozhin’s informational campaign against the Russian MoD.
  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that the US government is concerned about China’s possible consideration of sending lethal aid to Russia.
  • The Russian MoD likely responded to a call for the Russian military to systematically target electrical infrastructure supporting Ukrainian nuclear power plants (NPPs) by setting possible informational conditions for strikes aimed at forcing emergency shutdowns at these NPPs.
  • Russian forces continued ground assaults along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations around Bakhmut as well as in the Avdiivka-Donetsk City area and western Donetsk Oblast.
  • Ukrainian officials reported that Russian forces continue to militarize the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP).
  • Ukrainian officials reported that Russian forces may be struggling to repair air defense systems deployed in Ukraine.
  • Russian occupation authorities are using an “anti-terrorist” commission to justify seizing and nationalizing assets in occupied Crimea for economic and military benefit.
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