While the Pentagon chief was rallying more international support for Ukraine in Brussels, President Joe Biden reaffirmed the U.S. commitment at home.
Biden said Wednesday the U.S. would contribute an additional $1 billion in security assistance and $225 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine following a phone call with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Biden said the new package includes more artillery and coastal defense weapons, along with ammunition to boost Ukrainian efforts to defend the Donbas region in the east from a fierce Russian attack. The humanitarian part of the package is earmarked for providing drinking water, medical care, food, shelter and other needs.
“The bravery, resilience, and determination of the Ukrainian people continues to inspire the world,” Biden said in a statement. “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.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, speaking at NATO headquarters in Brussels earlier Wednesday, noted that the U.S. and its allies recently provided long-range rocket-assisted artillery but said more help was needed because Ukraine “is facing a pivotal moment on the battlefield”.
The request for more firepower comes amid revelations that Moscow could be increasing its own defense spending by 20% to combat a war that shows no signs of ending soon.
“Russia is using its long-range fires to try to overwhelm Ukrainian positions, and Russia continues to indiscriminately bombard Ukraine’s sovereign territory and recklessly endanger Ukrainian civilians,” Austin said. “So we must intensify our shared commitment to Ukraine’s self-defense.”
►Russia’s state-controlled energy giant Gazprom’s announcement that it would reduce natural gas flows through a key European pipeline by roughly 40% appears to be a political move rather than a result of technical problems, Germany’s vice chancellor said Wednesday.
►A Moscow court extended the detention of WNBA star Brittney Griner through at least July 2, Russian state-run news agency TASS reported Tuesday. Griner has been in custody since Feb. 17, accused of bringing vape cartridges containing cannabis oil into the country. The U.S. Department of State considers her wrongfully detained.
►Russia banned dozens of British media and defense figures from entering the country in response to what the country’s foreign ministry alleged was the British media’s skewed portrayal of Moscow and its actions in Ukraine.
Two American veterans from Alabama, who were helping Ukraine fight against Russia, are missing amid reports they’ve been captured by Russian-backed separatists. If the information is confirmed, they would be the first U.S. citizens known to have been taken into custody after coming to Ukraine’s aid.
Relatives of Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, of Trinity and Alexander Drueke, 39, of Tuscaloosa have been in contact with the state’s congressional offices seeking information about the men’s whereabouts, press aides said.
Rep. Robert Aderholt said Huynh had volunteered to go fight with the Ukrainian army against Russia and relatives haven’t heard from him since June 8, when he was in the Kharkiv region of northeastern Ukraine, located near the Russian border. Huynh and Drueke were together, an aide to Aderholt said.
The U.S. State Department said it was looking into the reports and advised Americans not to travel to Ukraine, pointing out U.S. citizens are singled out by Russian security officials. “We are closely monitoring the situation and are in contact with Ukrainian authorities,” the department said in a statement.
A court in Donetsk, under separatist control, sentenced two Britons and a Moroccan man to death last week after finding them guilty of “mercenary activities.”
Dozens of countries are joining the U.S. in boosting their commitment to supporting Ukraine’s efforts to fight off the Russian invasion, U.S. military leaders said Wednesday after meeting with 50 allies in Brussels.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, appearing with Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced the Pentagon will send $1 billion in weapons to help Ukraine’s effort to blunt Russia’s offensive in the eastern Donbas region.
The package, the 12th approved by Biden since August, includes long-range, rocket-assisted artillery, Harpoon anti-ship missiles and more conventional howitzer cannons and ammunition. U.S. allies also pledged to continue backing the Ukrainian military.
“The international community is not allowing this unambiguous act of aggression by Russia to go unanswered,” Milley said.
The Ukrainians have said they more need long-range and conventional artillery, armored vehicles and anti-aircraft systems, Austin said.
“It’s never enough,” Austin said. “And so we’re going to continue to work hard to moving as much capability as we can, as fast as we can.”
The Russians outgun the Ukrainians in the Donbas – some estimates indicate by 20-to-1 in weapons – Milley said, but the Ukrainians continue to engage in house-by-house fighting there.
“The advances the Russians have made have been very slow, a very tough slog, very severe battle of attrition, almost World War I-like, and the Russians have suffered tremendous amounts of casualties,” Milley said.
– Tom Vanden Brook
Nearly two-thirds of Ukraine’s children have fled their homes, with families sometimes leaving behind fathers to fight the war, UNICEF says. Some of the families have moved to western Ukraine, which has been relatively calm, while others have fled across the border into Poland or other nations. The trauma and fear can have long-lasting effects on children’s physical and mental health, said Afshan Khan, UNICEF’s Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia.
“Children forced to leave homes, friends, toys and treasured belongings, family members and facing uncertainty about the future,” Khan said. “This instability is robbing children of their futures.”
Russian forces have indiscriminately bombed Ukraine cities, sometimes cutting off humanitarian evacuation corridors. The result: At least 277 children have been killed and another 456 have been injured.
“This use of explosive weapons in populated areas and attacks on civilian infrastructure must stop,” Khan said. “It is killing and maiming children and preventing them from returning to any kind of normal life in the towns and cities that are their homes.”
The Harpoon, a powerful anti-ship missile, is one of Ukraine’s most urgent needs as it seeks to fend off Russian attacks from the sea, a senior Defense Department official said Wednesday.
Ukraine needs the missiles to defend itself against Russia’s effective blockade of the Black Sea and to protect the vital port city of Odesa, the official said. Harpoons provide significantly stronger deterrence than Ukraine has.
The U.S. will provide Ukraine with trucks specifically designed to launch the missiles, a second senior Pentagon official said, briefing reporters after the White House and Defense Department announced the new $1 billion aid package. It may take months to field the truck-based launch system and train Ukrainian troops to use it.
Other countries will provide the missiles, the officials said. Denmark has already pledged to send Harpoons to Ukraine.
The deterrent effect of shore-based anti-ship missiles was made plain in April when Ukraine sank the Moskva, the flagship of the Russian fleet, with a missile it had developed. Russia has since pulled its ships farther from the Ukrainian coastline.
The $1 billion dollar aid package includes $650 million from the Ukrainian Security Assistance Initiative, which allows the government to buy equipment for Ukraine, maintain it and to train its troops. The balance of $350 billion comes from existing Pentagon stocks of equipment and weapons. They will be shipped to Ukraine under the president’s drawdown authority, according to the Pentagon.
— Tom Vanden Brook
The Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting today, led by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, is bringing together dozens of global of defense ministers trying to “identify and examine the next steps needed to help Ukraine defend itself from Russian aggression,” the State Department says. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said Ukraine uses 5,000 to 6,000 artillery rounds a day – and that Russia uses 10 times more.
“No matter how much effort Ukraine makes, no matter how professional our army, without the help of Western partners we will not be able to win this war,” Malyar said in a televised news conference.
It appears Russia will significantly boost its military budget to continue its slow but steady attack on the Donbas: British defense officials said Russian defense spending could increase by 12 billion U.S. dollars — approaching a 20% increase in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s defense budget.
The British Defense Ministry said Russia is allowing the country’s defense industrial base “to be slowly mobilized to meet demands placed on it by the war in Ukraine. However, the industry could struggle to meet many of these requirements, partially due to the effects of sanctions and lack of expertise.”
Global furniture giant Ikea said Wednesday that it will sell its four factories in Russia and liquidate inventory in its 17 stores due to supply chain issues and the war in Ukraine. The company, which paused operations in Russia a week after the invasion, said it would be sharply reducing its workforce. The Swedish-founded company said it will continue paying employees until the end of August. Ikea also paused operations in Belarus, Russia’s neighbor and strongest ally.
“The war in Ukraine … is a human tragedy that is continuing to affect people and communities,” Ikea said in a statement on its website. “Businesses and supply chains across the world have been heavily impacted and we do not see that it is possible to resume operations any time soon.”
Ukraine won’t use any long-range missile systems the West might provide to strike civilian neighborhoods in Russia, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.
Zelenskyy spoke remotely to Danish media on the eve of a meeting of global defense ministers in Brussels that could determine the heft and amount of weaponry supporting nations will provide Ukraine’s out-gunned but unwavering military. Ukrainian cities have been pounded from a distance by long-range Russian weapons his military can’t reach.
“We are not interested in shelling civilians, we are not terrorists,” Zelenskyy said. “We need the right weapons … that work at such a distance.”
Zelenskyy said he was willing to hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, with or without mediators, on ending the war and withdrawing Russian troops from Ukrainian territory.
“Only President Putin decides whether the Russian army will stop or not,” Zelenskyy said. “In Russia, there is one person who decides absolutely everything for the citizens of Russia and for the Russian military.”
Contributing: The Associated Press