After the Pentagon released a detailed list of military equipment, weapons, and ammunition that would be supplied to Ukraine as part of the latest $800 million aid package to Ukraine, the Biden White House performed an immediate policy U-turn and announced that promised Mi-17 helicopters would not be gifted to Ukraine after all.
What Was In the Package?
In a slide shared by the Pentagon, the originally intended package for Ukraine included 11 Mi017 helicopters along with a range of drones, Howitzers, armored vehicles, and medical equipment.
The slide revealed that the package contained the following:
-18 155mm Howitzers as well as 40,000 artillery rounds
-10 AN/TPQ-36 counter-artillery radars
-Two AN-MPQ-64 Sentinel air surveillance radars
-300 Switchblade Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems
-500 Javelin missiles and thousands of other anti-armor systems
-200 M113 Armored Personnel Carriers
-100 Armored High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles
-11 Mi-17 helicopters
-Unmanned Coastal Defense Vessels
-Protective equipment suitable for use in biological, chemical, and nuclear warfare
-30,000 sets of body armor with helmets
-More than 2,000 optics and laser rangefinders
-C-4 explosives and demolition equipment for obstacle clearing
-M18A1 Claymore anti-personnel munitions
White House Breaks Helicopter Promise
The United States’ intention to send helicopters to Ukraine was first revealed in January, before Russia pulled the trigger and deployed troops into the country. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a press briefing on January 21 that the helicopters would be sent.
“And finally, in identifying additional equipment held in DOD inventories that can be delivered under the Excess Defense Articles program, among other mechanisms, we recently notified Congress of our intent to deliver M-17 [Mi-17] helicopters,” a White House transcript reads.
The White House did not confirm whether or not those helicopters were delivered to Ukraine, and the recent U-turn could be indicative of renewed concern that Russian President Vladimir Putin intends to escalate in Ukraine.
Last month, the United States refused to work with Russia to facilitate the transfer of a fleet of MiG-29 Soviet-era fighter jets – a move that the White House and Pentagon blamed on Russia’s views on military escalation. Had the planes been transferred, Russia may consider it an escalation and an act of war, the Pentagon suggested at the time.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that jets “departing from a U/SNATO base in Germany to fly into airspace that is contested with Russia over Ukraine” presented “serious concerns” for the NATO alliance.
What Are Mi-17 Helicopters?
The Mi-17 helicopter is an improved version of the Mi-8 helicopter which comes with more powerful engines and a number of other refinements. The Mi-8 helicopter on which it was based was one of the most popular Soviet-designed helicopters.
The aircraft can carry 24 troops, four tonnes of internal capacity, and three tonnes of external capacity. It also features mounted 7.62mm and 12.7mm machine guns and can carry air-to-air and anti-tank missiles.
Helpful for both air travel and the delivery of missiles, the aircraft would have given Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky precisely what he has spent the last month asking for.
In mid-March, Zelenskyy renewed calls from NATO forces to deliver as many military vehicles, including aircraft and helicopters, as possible to Ukraine. The Ukrainian president asked NATO to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine and to deliver aircraft to help right against the Russian air force.
Later in March, Zelenskyy asked for 1% of NATO plans and 1% of its tanks.
Jack Buckby is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.