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A Ukrainian servicemember hold an anti-tank weapon

A serviceman of the Ukrainian armed forces holds a light anti-tank rocket launcher at a checkpoint near Kharkiv on March 23, 2022. (Photo: Sergey Bobok/AFP via Getty Images)

Pentagon Convenes Top US Weapons Makers to Increase Supply for Ukraine War

The Pentagon meeting comes as the U.S. and other NATO countries faced criticism for potentially "hindering negotiations rather than encouraging and facilitating them."

Jake Johnson

The Pentagon on Wednesday is set to convene a classified meeting of some of the largest arms makers in the U.S.—from Lockheed Martin to Raytheon—as the Biden administration looks to ramp up weapons shipments to Ukraine, even as critics warn that continuing to pump advanced military equipment into the war zone could prolong the deadly conflict.

"It is within Putin's power to wind down this war, but what NATO does matters as well."

Citing unnamed officials, Reuters reported Tuesday that the Defense Department "will host leaders from the top eight U.S. weapons manufacturers... to discuss the industry's capacity to meet Ukraine's weapons needs if the war with Russia lasts years." Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is a former member of Raytheon's board of directors.

One Pentagon official told the Financial Times that a central purpose of the meeting with arms contractors—which are profiting mightily from Russia's war on Ukraine—is to weigh "industry proposals to accelerate production of existing systems and develop new, modernized capabilities critical to the department's ongoing security assistance to Ukraine and long-term readiness of U.S. and ally/partner forces."

The meeting, hosted by the Pentagon's weapons buyer, will come as the Biden administration is aiming to massively increase the flow of U.S. arms and other military equipment into Ukraine, a step that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has demanded as his country fights Russia's illegal and devastating invasion.

According to the Washington Post, a new weapons package that Biden administration officials are discussing could be worth $750 million, adding to the $1.7 billion in military support the U.S. has provided Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in late February.

The Post reported that the Pentagon is "looking to transfer armored Humvees and a range of other sophisticated equipment," including howitzer cannons and coastal defense drones.

In remarks posted to social media on Wednesday, Zelenskyy declared that Ukraine needs "heavy artillery, armored vehicles, air defense systems, and combat aircraft."

"Anything to repel Russian forces and stop their war crimes," he added.

News of the Pentagon's meeting with arms makers came as Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed Tuesday that peace talks with Ukraine are currently at a "dead end" after several rounds of negotiations in Belarus and Turkey.

Putin also indicated that Russian forces, having failed to seize Kyiv and other major cities, will focus in the near term on eastern Ukraine, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian troops for years.

"Negotiations have a greater chance of succeeding with Washington's participation."

On Wednesday, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov reiterated Moscow's view that "U.S.-NATO weapons transports across Ukrainian territory will be considered by us as legal military targets."

"We are making the Americans and other Westerners understand that attempts to slow down our special operation, to inflict maximum damage on Russian contingents and formations of the [Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics] will be harshly suppressed," Ryabkov added, referring to separatist regions of the Donbas that Moscow has recognized as independent.

Increasing arms flows into Ukraine and the latest remarks from top Russian officials augur poorly for the prospects of an imminent diplomatic resolution to the war, which has killed thousands and sparked a massive humanitarian crisis.

Foreign policy experts and peace advocates have been cautioning since Russia began its attack that Western weapons shipments into Ukraine could harm rather than increase the chances of a peaceful settlement. The Biden administration has also faced criticism for not taking on a more active role in diplomatic negotiations.

In a column for Responsible Statecraft over the weekend, foreign policy analyst Ted Snider echoed that critique, warning that "the United States may be hindering negotiations rather than encouraging and facilitating them, seeming to hold out for a preferred outcome while the violence rages on the ground and more people suffer."

"Since the invasion, Ukraine has repeatedly stated a readiness to abandon its NATO aspirations and declare neutrality: a key concession for a diplomatic solution," Snider observed. "Ukraine has proposed that a closed-door to NATO membership be made more palatable by an open door to E.U. membership. Russia has agreed... The U.S. has said nothing in support but remains ambivalent."

"Ukraine has also declared that it is prepared to negotiate the status of Crimea and the Donbas. Washington has seemingly not supported this avenue of diplomacy either," Snider continued. "Negotiations have a greater chance of succeeding with Washington's participation. But as of now, the U.S. has not only said it will not pressure Ukraine to negotiate, particularly as reports of war crimes on the ground continue to dominate the headlines, it has discouraged it."

Rajan Menon, a senior research fellow at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University, argued in The Guardian on Wednesday that other NATO members are also guilty of hurting diplomatic efforts.

"Some members, most likely Poland and the Baltic states, want Ukraine to resist compromises because it is fighting for Europe's security, not merely its own," Menon noted. "But if NATO seizes the war as an opportunity to deliver body blows to Russia, it will surely prolong it and increase the number of Ukrainian deaths."

"Plus, the longer the war continues, the greater the risk that it could spread beyond Ukraine and lead to a clash between NATO and Russia—one in which nuclear weapons could be used," he added. "It is within Putin's power to wind down this war, but what NATO does matters as well."

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