The United States and some of its European allies have announced significant new arms donations to Ukraine, including armored vehicles and heavy weapons, ahead of a crucial meeting to bolster the country’s defenses nearly a year after Russia invaded.
The US said its military support package – which includes armored personnel carriers, air defense systems and tens of thousands of missiles and artillery shells – is worth about $2.5 billion. There will be 59 Bradley Fighting Vehicles and 90 Stryker Armored Personnel Carriers, the US Department of Defense said in a statement Thursday.
Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said it was a “significant new security aid package designed to help Ukraine continue to defend itself against Russia’s brutal war.” The latest package brings US military aid to Ukraine to about $27.4 billion, he added.
Earlier, in a joint statement with defense ministers and officials from nine European countries, the United Kingdom announced it would send 600 Brimstone missiles to Kyiv, while Denmark promised 19 French-made Caesar howitzers and Sweden its Archer artillery system, a modern mobile howitzer Ukraine has been claiming for months.
“We recognize that arming Ukraine to push Russia out of its territory is just as important as arming them to defend what they already have,” the statement said.
“Together we will continue to support Ukraine’s transition from resistance to expulsion of Russian forces from Ukrainian soil. The new level of combat capability required will only be achieved through combinations of main battle tank squadrons under anti-aircraft and anti-missile defenses operating alongside divisional artillery groups, and further deep precision fire allowing targeting of Russian logistics and command nodes in occupied territory.”
The announcements came ahead of a meeting of defense and other officials from about 50 countries, including all 30 NATO members, at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany to express support for Kyiv amid brutal fighting in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s continued airstrikes on its cities to discuss .
Referring to the German talks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said late Thursday that Kyiv expects “strong decisions” from the meeting.
“In fact, we are now waiting for a decision from a European capital that will activate the prepared chains of cooperation on tanks,” Zelenskyy said in a video address.
“We are preparing for the meeting in Ramstein tomorrow. We expect strong decisions. We expect a powerful military aid package from the United States,” he added.
Pressure is mounting on Germany to provide its modern Leopard 2 tanks, and Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government seems so far reluctant to authorize their deployment for fear of provoking Moscow. Germany has a right of veto over any possible transfer.
The Kremlin warned Thursday that sending in heavy weapons that could hit Russian territory would be construed as an escalation.
“Possibly this is extremely dangerous,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “It will mean taking the conflict to a whole new level, which of course doesn’t bode well from a global and pan-European security perspective.”
Ukraine and Russia have both relied primarily 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, what he continues to refer to as a “special military operation”.
Denmark is among nine European countries, all NATO members, offering more heavy weapons to Ukraine. The Danes said they would send the Caesar howitzer weapon system [File: Henning Bagger and Ritzau Scanpix/AFP]
Fearing that the colder months could give Russian forces time to regroup and unleash a meaningful attack, Ukraine has stepped up calls for its allies to increase their support.
During his trip to Washington, DC in December, Zelenskyy told the US Congress that supporting Ukraine is not charity but an investment in democracy.
Berlin on Thursday appeared to leave open the prospect of allowing allies to supply Ukraine with the requested tanks, saying the situation “will become clear in the next few hours or tomorrow morning”.
Lithuania’s Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas told AFP that “some countries” will send Leopard tanks to Ukraine and promised “more news tomorrow” at the talks.
Ukraine’s western allies have been reluctant to transfer heavier weapons to avoid NATO confronting Russia directly, but officials in Kyiv say tanks are crucial if Ukraine is to retake Russian-held lands and defend itself against further attacks .
“From Washington to London, from Paris to Warsaw, you hear one thing: Ukraine needs tanks. Tanks are the key to ending the war properly. It’s time to stop shaking at Putin and take the final step,” Zelenskyy adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said in a tweet.
Meanwhile, CIA director William Burns secretly traveled to Kyiv to meet with Zelensky, a US official told Portal on Thursday, but declined to say when the visit took place.
The Washington Post, which first reported Burns’ trip, said the CIA director was in Ukraine late last week and briefed Zelenskyy on how the US views Russia in shaping its military plans in the coming weeks and months.
Fighting remains most intense in the eastern industrial region known as Donbass, Ukrainian military officials said Thursday evening.
The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said Russian forces shelled the town of Bakhmut, Russia’s main center in Donetsk province, which together with Luhansk province forms the Donbass region.
Soledar, some 20 km (12 miles) from Bakhmut, also came under fire. Russian forces say they control the city known for its salt mines, while Ukraine says its military is still fighting there.
Neighboring towns have also come under fire from Russian forces – including Klishchiivka, south of Bakhmut, the Ukrainian military said. Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary army, said his troops had taken control of Klishchiivka, a claim contested by Ukraine.