US officials hope new aid for Ukraine’s energy grid will spur donations from other nations
By Edward Wong
The United States is giving Ukraine $53 million to buy badly needed equipment to help repair its battered electricity grid after weeks of Russian aerial strikes, emphasizing an urgent new front in the global efforts to help Ukraine after allies have already provided billions in military aid.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken made the pledge Tuesday in Romania during a meeting of the Group of 7 nations on the sidelines of a two-day conclave of NATO’s foreign ministers.
Top diplomats from more than 30 European nations had traveled to Bucharest for talks on how to best bolster Ukraine’s defenses against the invasion begun in February by President Vladimir Putin of Russia.
A senior State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic negotiations, said U.S. officials hope the new promise of electrical equipment will spur other countries to announce their own infrastructure aid packages for Ukraine, where millions of residents are living without power and water because of recent Russian missile and drone strikes.
Russian commanders have sent wave after wave of missiles and drones to hit Ukraine’s transmission grid, including high-voltage transformer stations, which are more vulnerable than power plants.
U.S. and European officials say Moscow is trying to break the morale of Ukrainians by depriving them of basic utilities like heat and water over the winter, when average temperatures across Ukraine drop below freezing.
The Americans are aiming to pull together a working group to help Ukraine repair its energy infrastructure on an emergency basis and to better defend its power plants and energy grid from attack. The energy group would be modeled on the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, which organizes the delivery of weapons and other military aid to Ukraine, a second State Department official said, also requesting anonymity to discuss diplomatic negotiations.
The energy “contact group” would be centered on the G-7 nations. The first meeting focused on such aid took place at the gathering of the G-7 foreign ministers in early November in Münster, Germany, where officials pledged to help Ukraine rebuild and defend its infrastructure. The next meeting is expected to take place next month in Paris.
The $53 million announced Tuesday would be used to buy a range of important equipment, including distribution transformers and circuit breakers, the State Department said. The U.S. government would buy the equipment and transfer it to Ukraine, focusing first on what can be shipped there fastest, a third official said. The Biden administration has already identified $30 million of equipment, including from Department of Energy stocks, the official said.
The department said the $53 million is in addition to $55 million in emergency energy sector support for generators and other equipment already promised to Ukraine by the United States.
Other countries have provided some support to Ukraine’s energy sector, including Lithuania and Canada. The European Union announced over the weekend that it was preparing to deliver 200 transformers and 40 heavy generators.
Ukrainian leaders say they also need more air defense systems from the United States and its allies to protect infrastructure and civilian areas from Russian attacks.
Blinken took part Tuesday in talks with Romanian leaders and attended NATO sessions on the war, then met with officials from the G-7 nations.
“NATO is stronger and more united than at any time I can remember,” Blinken said in brief remarks with Jens Stoltenberg, the alliance’s secretary-general, before the afternoon meetings. “We will be reaffirming our support for Ukraine as we go forward.”