The United States and some of its European allies have announced major new arms donations to Ukraine, including armored vehicles and heavy weapons, ahead of a crucial meeting on strengthening the country’s defenses nearly a year old. after the Russian invasion.
The US has said its military support package – which includes armored personnel carriers, air defense systems and tens of thousands of rockets and artillery shells – is worth some $2.5 billion. dollars. There will be 59 Bradley fighting vehicles and 90 Stryker armored personnel carriers, the US Department of Defense said in a statement Thursday.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it was “an important new security assistance program to help Ukraine continue to defend against Russia’s brutal war.” The latest package brings US military aid to Ukraine to some $27.4 billion, he added.
Earlier, the UK, in a joint statement with defense ministers and representatives of nine European countries, announced it would send 600 Brimstone missiles to Kyiv, while Denmark pledged 19 French-made Caesar howitzers, and Sweden its Archer artillery system, a modern mobile howitzer that Ukraine has been requesting for months.
“We recognize that equipping Ukraine to push Russia out of its territory is as important as equipping it to defend what it already has,” the statement said.
“Together, we will continue to help Ukraine move from resistance to the expulsion of Russian forces from Ukrainian soil. The new level of combat power required is achieved only by combinations of main battle tank squadrons, under air and missile defense, operating alongside divisional artillery groups, and other precision fire in depth to target Russian logistics and command nodes in occupied territory.
The announcements preceded a meeting of defense and other officials from around 50 countries, including all 30 NATO members, at Germany’s Ramstein Air Base to discuss support for Kyiv amid battles brutal attacks in eastern Ukraine and continued Russian air attacks on its cities. .
Looking ahead to the German talks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said late Thursday that Kyiv expected “strong decisions” from the meeting.
“We are actually now waiting for a decision from a European capital, which will activate the prepared chains of cooperation regarding the tanks,” Zelenskyy said in a video address.
“We are preparing for the Ramstein meeting tomorrow. We expect strong decisions. We expect a strong military aid program from the United States,” he added.
Pressure on Germany to supply its modern Leopard 2 tanks is mounting, with Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government so far appearing reluctant to allow their transfer for fear of provoking Moscow. Germany has a right of veto over any potential transfer.
The Kremlin warned on Thursday that sending heavy weapons capable of hitting Russian territory would be interpreted as an escalation.
“Potentially, it’s extremely dangerous,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “That will mean taking the conflict to a whole new level, which, of course, will not bode well from a global and pan-European security perspective.”
Ukraine and Russia have relied mainly on Soviet-era T-72 tanks, which were destroyed by the hundreds during the war that began on February 24 last year when Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops across the border in what he continues to call a “special military operation”.
Fearing that the colder months will give Russian forces time to regroup and launch a major attack, Ukraine has stepped up calls for its allies to increase aid.
During his trip to Washington, DC in December, Zelenskyy told the US Congress that supporting Ukraine was not charity but an investment in democracy.
On Thursday, Berlin appeared to leave open the prospect of allowing allies to supply Ukraine with the requested tanks, saying the situation “would become clear in the next few hours or tomorrow morning”.
Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas told AFP news agency that “some countries will send” Leopard tanks to Ukraine, promising “more news tomorrow” during the talks.
Ukraine’s Western allies have been reluctant to transfer heavier weapons to avoid NATO appearing to directly confront Russia, but officials in Kyiv say tanks are crucial if Ukraine is to retake lands occupied by the Russians and defend against further attacks.
“From Washington to London, from Paris to Warsaw, we hear one thing: Ukraine needs tanks. Tanks are the key to ending the war correctly. It’s time to stop cowering at Putin and take the final step,” Zelensky’s adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said in a tweet.
Meanwhile, CIA Director William Burns traveled to Kyiv in secret to meet with Zelenskyy, a US official told Reuters news agency on Thursday, declining to say when the visit took place.
The Washington Post, which first reported on Burns’ trip, said the CIA director was in Ukraine late last week and briefed Zelenskyy on how the United States sees Russia establishing its military plans in the weeks and months to come.
Fighting continued to be heaviest in the eastern industrial region known as Donbass, Ukrainian military officials said late Thursday.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said Russian forces shelled the town of Bakhmut, Russia’s main focus in Donetsk province, which combined with Lugansk province forms the region of Donbass.
Soledar, about 20 km (12 miles) from Bakhmut, also came under fire. Russian forces claim to control the city, famous for its salt mines, while Ukraine says its army is still fighting there.
Nearby towns were also shelled by Russian forces, including Klishchiivka, just south of Bakhmut, the Ukrainian military said. Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Russian mercenary Wagner Army, said his forces had taken control of Klishchiivka, a claim disputed by Ukraine.