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The Pentagon is planning to bring Ukrainian troops to the United States for training on the Patriot missile defense system, US officials said Tuesday, signaling the Biden administration’s latest test of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threshold for Western intervention in the conflict.

The training will take place at Fort Sill, an expansive facility covering roughly 145 square miles southwest of Oklahoma City, and could begin as soon as next week. The base is home to the US military’s basic Patriot missile defense training program and another curriculum designed to teach American personnel field artillery maneuvers.

The move follows President Biden’s decision last month approving the transfer of a Patriot system to Ukraine, which for weeks has endured blistering Russian missile attacks on its energy grid and other vital infrastructure. Germany announced last week that it, too, would send a Patriot battery to bolster Ukraine’s air defenses as millions face repeated blackouts that have cut heat, light and internet access for large portions of the country.

Pentagon preparing to send Patriot missile system to Ukraine

As the Ukraine war nears its one-year mark, US officials describe the fighting as partially “frozen.” Russian forces have concentrated their efforts in recent weeks on the eastern towns of Bakhmut and Soledar, where the fighting has been intense but thus far yielded no major battlefield gains for either side.

The head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, said Tuesday that his forces had captured Soledar. His Telegram channel displayed a photo claiming to show Wagner units inside the town’s salt mine tunnels, although the image could not be independently verified. Britain’s Defense Ministry said earlier that Russian forces and Wagner fighters were “likely in control of most of the settlement.”

A senior US military official, speaking this week on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon, characterized the violence as “really savage,” with “thousands upon thousands” of artillery rounds having been fired by Russian and Ukrainian forces. The United States has assessed in recent weeks that more than 100,000 troops from both countries have been killed or wounded so far.

A Pentagon spokesman, Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, told reporters on Tuesday that the Patriot training will prepare about 90 to 100 Ukrainian soldiers to “operate, maintain and sustain” the defensive system through instruction that will take “several months.” That’s the same number required to operate a Patriot battery, which typically includes eight launchers, each capable of carrying between four and 16 ready-to-fire missiles, depending on the type of munition.

American troops typically receive about a year of training on the Patriot before using it in the field. The Pentagon is looking for ways to compress that timeline for Ukrainian forces, given the urgent need to get them schooled up and sent back home.

“We certainly don’t want to do anything that would jeopardize their ability to continue to fight,” Ryder said. “But ultimately, that’s a decision for the Ukrainians to make, in terms of how many troops they can afford to have come off the line in order to do the training.”

Relying on Fort Sill, where a school is already established, will help the United States “expedite” the training under the instruction of US Army personnel, Ryder said. Working separately from US students, Ukrainian soldiers will receive instruction in classrooms, on the Patriot system itself, and in a simulation lab, he said.

The Pentagon has no other plans to bring Ukrainian forces to the United States for training on additional weapons systems, Ryder added, though he would not rule out that possibility should a future need arise. The administration, he said, is remaining “flexible.”

Putin has seethed at NATO nations’ involvement in the war, calling efforts by the United States and its allies to train and arm Ukraine acts of complicity. He has warned repeatedly that if Russia feels threatened by outside forces, it won’t hesitate to retaliate. For its part, the Kremlin has turned to fellow US adversaries, Iran and North Korea, for help replenishing its weapons stocks as Western sanctions have strained its defense industry.

A security advisor to Putin, Nikolai Patrushev, said in an interview published this week in Russian media that events in Ukraine “are not a clash between Moscow and Kyiv,” but a “military confrontation between NATO, and above all the United States and England With Russia. NATO instructors, Patrushev said, are driving Ukrainian forces to their deaths.

“The sooner the citizens of Ukraine realize that the West is fighting against Russia with their hands, the more lives will be saved,” Patrushev said.

Pentagon eyes major expansion of Ukraine military training

The Patriot system, first used in combat during the Gulf War to take out Iraqi Scud missiles, relies on sophisticated radar to track incoming threats, including cruise and ballistic missiles, and launches long-range missiles to intercept them. Typically deployed on the back of a truck, it requires a crew of at least three soldiers to operate, with extensive backup needed to keep it functional.

The plan to conduct the training at Fort Sill, first reported by CNNcomes as the Biden administration makes a series of moves to transform the Ukrainian military from a force primarily capable of halting the Russian advance into one that can mount more successful offensive operations intended to reclaim occupied Ukrainian territory.

Senior US officials have said that the Pentagon is also preparing to train hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers at a time at an American facility in Germany beginning this month, focusing on what the US military calls combined-arms warfare. The concept integrates ground operations with long-range artillery, aviation and other weapons. In development for many months, the expanded training program in Germany was announced publicly last month ahead of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to washingtonwhere he pleaded for more help.

US and Germany will send armored combat vehicles to Ukraine

Biden in recent weeks has approved a broad expansion of arms transfers to Ukraine, with the United States saying on Friday that it would send heavily armored Bradley fighting vehicles, self-propelled artillery and thousands of rounds of ammunition to support them. It’s an effort that is intended tochange the dynamicon the battlefield and enable Ukrainian forces to make greater progress along the war’s front lines, which have stayed mostly static for months, US defense officials have said.

Ukrainian officials, meanwhile, continue to seek additional capabilities their military does not currently possess, including Western battle tanks such as the Abrams, which is made in the United States. Washington has been reluctant to fulfill all of Zelensky’s requests for advanced weaponry, mindful of Putin’s threat to retaliate, and the training and sustainment requirements that each new system brings.

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Ryder said Tuesday that American and Ukrainian officials will continue to discuss what Ukraine needs, and that the Pentagon will look to “provide them with the capabilities they need to not only defend their country but to be able to take back territory.” He didn’t elaborate.

The package approved Friday included more than $3 billion in military hardware. It was the single largest transfer since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Biden has approved the transfer of $24.2 billion in weapons since the invasion.

Americans’ broad support for aiding Ukraine has slipped in recent months, polls show, as some Republicans have argued that it is irresponsible for the federal government to spend such sums when the United States faces economic hardships. The GOP’s newly minted House majority has vowed to scrutinize The administration’s assistance programs, though tens of billions of dollars to help Ukraine, approved in the most recent budget cycle, remain available.

Erin Cunningham and Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.

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