KYIV: Russian troops fought to take complete control of the eastern industrial city of Sievierodonetsk on Wednesday as the US said it will provide Ukraine with advanced rockets to help it force Moscow to negotiate an end to the war.
President Joe Biden said the United States would provide Ukraine with more advanced rocket systems and munitions so it can “more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield”.
“We have moved quickly to send Ukraine a significant amount of weaponry and ammunition so it can fight on the battlefield and be in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table,” Biden wrote in an opinion piece in the New York Times.
A senior Biden administration official said weaponry provided would include the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), which Ukraine’s armed forces chief said a month ago was “crucial” to counter Russian missile attacks.
Addressing concerns that such weapons could draw the United States into a direct conflict with Russia, senior administration officials said Ukraine gave assurances the missiles would not be used to strike inside Russia.
“These systems will be used by the Ukrainians to repel Russian advances on Ukrainian territory, but they will not be used on targets in Russian territory,” the US official told reporters.
Shortly after the US decision was announced, the Russian defence ministry said Russia’s nuclear forces were holding drills in the Ivanovo province, northeast of Moscow, the Interfax news agency reported.
Some 1,000 servicemen were exercising in intense manoeuvres using more than 100 vehicles including Yars intercontinental ballistic missile launchers, it cited the ministry as saying.
There was no mention of the US decision to supply new weapons in the Interfax report.
The latest US pledge of weapons for Ukraine – on top of billions of dollars worth of equipment already provided including anti-aircraft missiles and drones – came as Russia pressed its assault to seize the eastern Donbas region, having abandoned its earlier thrust toward Kyiv from the north.
Russian troops have now taken control of most of the eastern industrial city of Sievierodonetsk in Luhansk, one of two provinces in the Donbas, regional Governor Serhiy Gaidai on Tuesday.
Ukraine says weapons sent by the United States and other countries since the beginning of the invasion have helped fend off Russian gains.
The high mobility artillery rocket systems are part of a $700 million weapons package expected to be unveiled by the United States on Wednesday.
The package includes ammunition, counterfire radars, a number of air surveillance radars, additional Javelin anti-tank missiles, as well as anti-armour weapons, officials said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called for more weapons while lambasting the European Union, which agreed on Monday to cut imports of Russian oil, for not sanctioning energy from Russia sooner.
The EU said it would ban imports of Russian oil by sea. Officials said that would halt two-thirds of Russia’s oil exports to Europe at first, and 90% by the end of this year.
Responding to the EU oil embargo, Russia widened its gas cuts to Europe, pushing up prices and ratcheted up its economic battle with Brussels.
Putin launched his “special operation” in February to disarm and “denazify” Ukraine. Ukraine and its Western allies call this a baseless pretext for a war to seize territory.
Ukraine accuses Russia of war crimes on a huge scale, flattening cities and killing and raping civilians. Russia denies the accusations.