Russia formally protests US arms shipments to Ukraine

By Natasha Bertrand, Evan Perez and Kylie Atwood, CNN

Russia formally protested the continued US shipment of arms to Ukraine this week, sending a diplomatic note to the State Department warning of ‘unforeseeable consequences’ if support continues, two officials say Americans and another source close to the document.

The memo, known as the demarche, was sent earlier this week as the United States prepared to announce it would send an additional $800 million military aid package to Ukraine. The Washington Post first reported on the document.

The United States has for the first time agreed to provide kyiv with the kinds of high-powered capabilities that some Biden administration officials a few weeks ago deemed too great a risk of escalation a few weeks ago, including 11 Mi-17 helicopters, 18 155 mm howitzer guns and 300 other Switchblade drones.

A source close to the Russian diplomatic note said Moscow was expected to protest against the shipments, and it was still unclear whether that means Russia will change its behavior in any way. But this person acknowledged that the memo could signal a more aggressive Russian stance against the United States and NATO as the war drags on.

CNN has previously reported that the United States believes Russian President Vladimir Putin’s risk tolerance has increased and that he may be willing to take more aggressive action against the United States in response to its support for Ukraine.

Asked for comment, another US official said: “We will not confirm any private diplomatic correspondence. What we can confirm is that together with our Allies and partners, we are providing Ukraine with billions of dollars in security assistance, which our Ukrainian partners are using to extraordinary effect to defend their country against the unprovoked aggression and horrific acts of violence by Russia.

The first flight from the United States of $800 million in new aid for Ukraine is expected to arrive in the region within the next 24 hours, according to a senior defense official. The official said the material will be picked up at the border by Ukrainians and taken to the country. The manifesto is not disclosed.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been pleading with the West for months for heavier equipment to effectively fight the Russians, who invaded Ukraine on February 24. Russia was forced back into northern Ukraine and its forces were ultimately unable to capture the capital, Kyiv.

But Ukrainian and Western officials have since expected Russia to launch a major offensive in eastern Ukraine, which is a different kind of terrain and requires different kinds of weapons.

“This is the first time that we have provided these [155mm] howitzers and associated shells, and that reflects the kind of fighting the Ukrainians expect to face here in this more confined geographic area,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday, referring to the area of Donbass, in eastern Ukraine.

Despite protests from Russia, the United States shows no signs of abating in its military support for Ukraine. Pentagon officials met with defense contractors this week to discuss how to ramp up production of the kinds of systems and weapons Ukraine will need to keep fighting.

“This [meeting] was really focused on the kind of systems and weapons that were relevant in the Ukrainian war,” Kirby said Wednesday, as well as “the possibility of ramping up some of these production lines and developing based on the high consumption of our inventory”.

This story has been updated with additional reports.

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CNN’s Kaitlan Collins and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.