The United States is sending another $1 billion in military aid to Ukraine, Washington’s biggest tranche yet of weaponry and equipment targeted to confront Russia’s slow but relentless advance on Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.
U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement Wednesday he informed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of the new shipment in a phone call and that it would include additional artillery, coastal defense weapons, ammunition and advanced rocket systems Kyiv’s forces need to fend off Moscow’s bigger arsenal.
In addition, Biden said the U.S. is sending Ukraine $225 million more in humanitarian aid to help its beleaguered citizenry, including safe drinking water, critical medical supplies and health care, food, shelter, and cash for families to purchase essential items.
“The bravery, resilience, and determination of the Ukrainian people continues to inspire the world,” Biden said. “And the United States, together with our allies and partners, will not waver in our commitment to the Ukrainian people as they fight for their freedom.”
The aid announcement came as U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met in Brussels with allied defense ministers from more than 45 countries that have been supplying armaments to Ukraine’s forces. Russia is attempting to take full control of eastern Ukraine after failing earlier in the 3 1/2-month invasion to topple Zelenskyy’s government or capture the capital, Kyiv.
Opening the talks with the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, Austin said Western allies remain “committed to do even more” to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia’s invasion at what he characterized as a “critical moment on the battlefield.”
Austin said Kyiv’s forces have “inspired us all and need us all” to supply more weaponry as battles rage in the Donbas region.
He said Russia is continuing to “indiscriminately bombard Ukraine,” and is a “menace to European security” that continues to draw “global outrage.”
Even before Biden’s announcement of new military assistance, the United States and its allies supporting Ukraine have already sent billions of dollars of weaponry and ammunition to assist Ukraine’s fighters.
“We’ve got a lot done,” Austin said, but now need to “deepen our support for Ukraine” to prove to Moscow “that might does not make right.”
“We must intensify our shared commitment to Ukraine’s self-defense, and we must push ourselves even harder to ensure that Ukraine can defend itself, its citizens and its territory,” he said.
Ukraine has continued to push for more military aid and to get it to the front lines more quickly as its forces face daunting odds in the fight to control the Donbas region.
Congressman Adam Smith, chairman of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, told an academic group at George Washington University, “We need to be giving more sophisticated systems, particularly when it comes to drones and long-range artillery. I don’t think we have been fast enough to get the Ukrainians the drones we have available.”
He said, “The way the fight is playing out right now, certainly, the Russians have more artillery. The Russians right now have better ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance). They have better drones going out and seeing Ukrainian artillery positions. The Ukrainians don’t have that same visibility.”
Despite Russian claims of targeting and hitting Western weapon deliveries, Smith said, “We are still capable of getting a lot of weapons into Ukraine and we’re seeing them being used in the battlefield.”
A virtual meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group last month drew representatives from nearly 50 nations and pledges of new aid packages. Ukrainian officials, who joined the talks in Brussels, continue to urge international partners to send more weapons, especially heavy artillery, to help Ukrainian forces match up against Russia.
“The question is what do the Ukrainians need to continue the success they’ve already seen in slowing down and thwarting that Russian objective, and that’ll be a major focus for the defense ministers,” a senior U.S. defense official said ahead of Wednesday’s meeting.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters that alliance defense ministers would meet late Wednesday with Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov and get an update on “what Ukraine urgently needs.”
Amid comments by Ukrainian officials that not enough military aid has come and not quickly enough, Stoltenberg said such efforts take time but that NATO leaders realize the urgency and are working with Ukraine to overcome hurdles.
Stoltenberg also said he expects NATO allies will also make new announcements of support for Ukraine on Wednesday.
‘Donbas is the key’
The talks come as Russian forces push to gain full control of the eastern industrial city of Sievierodonetsk, located in the Donbas region that Russia has declared to be its main focus of its operation in Ukraine.
“Hanging in there in Donbas is crucial,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video message late Tuesday. “Donbas is the key to deciding who will dominate in the coming weeks.”
Russia now controls about 80% of Sievierodonetsk and has destroyed all three bridges leading out of it, Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Haidai said Tuesday.
With Russia’s destruction of bridges, Haidai acknowledged that a mass evacuation of civilians from Sievierodonetsk now is “simply not possible” because of Moscow’s relentless shelling and fighting in the city.
He said Ukrainian forces have been pushed to the outskirts of the city because of “the scorched earth method and heavy artillery the Russians are using.”
But Haidai told The Associated Press that Russian forces had not blocked off access to the city, leaving Ukraine with “an opportunity for the evacuation of the wounded, communication with the Ukrainian military and local residents.”
Population down to 12,000
About 12,000 of the city’s original population of 100,000 remain, with 500 civilians sheltering in the Azot chemical plant, which is being shelled by the Russians.
Russian Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintsev said a humanitarian corridor will be opened Wednesday to evacuate civilians from the chemical plant, but that they will be taken to the town of Svatovo, which is under control of Russian and separatist forces.
Slowly, but relentlessly, Russia appears to be gaining the upper hand in the fight for control of the Donbas region, which encompasses the Luhansk and Donetsk provinces of Ukraine that Russia recognizes as independent states.
Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, and Kyiv’s forces have been fighting pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas region since then.