Ukraine Situation Report: Top U.S. Officials Pledge ‘Advanced Weapons’ During Kyiv Visit
Secretaries Blinken and Austin wrapped up their high-profile meeting with Zelensky yesterday promising more arms for Kyiv.
The U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, yesterday. The highest-profile U.S. visit since the war started, had been announced by Zelensky just a day earlier. The meeting saw Blinken declare that Russia “is failing” in its aims for the invasion of Ukraine, while there was a predictably stern response from Moscow, which warned the United States from sending further arms to the Kyiv regime, as it plans to.
“The visit of a delegation of high-ranking US officials to Kyiv at this crucial moment for the Ukrainian state is very valuable and important,” Zelensky said in a statement on his Telegram channel. Adding that the three had discussed defense assistance, strengthening sanctions against Russia, financial support for Ukraine, and security guarantees, the Ukrainian President ended by thanking the United States for its “unprecedented help.”
As well as a new package of weapons for Ukraine, to help counter a new Russian offensive focused on the east of the country, the United States announced today that it planned to reopen its embassy in Kyiv soon. That move is likely to come after U.S. diplomatic staff return to the consulate in Lviv in the west of Ukraine, something that is expected to begin this week.
Held under high levels of security, the meeting between Blinken, Austin, and Zelensky yesterday saw the U.S. officials highlight Ukraine’s continued stubborn resistance to the Russian invaders. Indeed, the two stated that their visit to the capital had been made possible by the country’s defiance. Until last month, Russian forces had been concentrated around the capital but were ultimately unable to launch any kind of campaign to take control of the city or cut it off from the rest of the country.
“Ukrainians are standing up. They’re standing strong,” Blinken told reporters today near the Polish-Ukrainian border. “And they’re doing that with the support that we have coordinated from literally around the world. The strategy that we’ve put in place, massive support for Ukraine, massive pressure against Russia, solidarity with more than 30 countries engaged in these efforts, is having real results. And we’re seeing that when it comes to Russia’s war aims, Russia is failing, Ukraine is succeeding.”
Security concerns meant the meeting itself, and the planning running up to it, took place under conditions of considerable secrecy, with a reduced media presence and an embargo on these reporters publishing their stories until the U.S. officials had left Ukraine. Blinken and Austin had arrived initially in Poland, before traveling to Ukraine by train.
With a Russian assault on Kyiv off the agenda, for now, at least, Russian forces have instead concentrated in eastern Ukraine, where a new offensive began last week. To help blunt the advances of the Kremlin’s troops in the highly strategic Donbas region, the United States has now promised to provide Kyiv with more than $300 million of military financing as well as ammunition worth $165 million. Taken together, since the Russian invasion began in late February, the U.S. has pledged security assistance to Ukraine worth around $3.7 billion.
As for the $165-million ammunition package, this contains a very wide variety of munitions to supply mainly Soviet-era artillery and infantry weapons of the type that are prevalent in Ukrainian service. The full package, as announced today by the U.S. State Department comprises:
- 152mm rounds for 2A36 Giatsint towed artillery
- 152mm rounds for D-20 towed artillery
- VOG-17 for AGS-17 automatic grenade launcher
- 120mm mortar rounds (non-NATO)
- 122mm rounds for 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled artillery
- BM-21 Grad rockets
- 300mm rounds/rockets for Smerch MLRS
- VOG-25 grenades for GP-25 under-barrel grenade launcher
- 82mm mortar rounds
- 125mm HE ammunition for T-72 tank
- 152mm rounds for 2A65 Msta towed artillery
As part of the latest round of military assistance to Kyiv, the United States will supply ‘advanced weapons,’ expected to include some of the ground-based air defense systems that Ukrainian officials have long campaigned for.
“This assistance will help Ukraine’s armed forces transition to more advanced weapons and air defense systems, essentially NATO-capable systems,” a U.S. official said. Under the terms of the new assistance package, Ukraine will be able to buy new equipment rather than receive second-hand weapons from U.S. stocks. However, it’s not yet clear which systems Kyiv will try and buy and whether all those requests will be approved.
As well as this new support to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, the United States has said it will make available around $400 million more to invest across 15 different nations around central and eastern Europe and the Balkans.
Before getting into the latest updates below, The War Zone readers can first get fully up to speed on how the conflict has evolved already through our previous rolling coverage here.
In Russia, what appears to be a series of major fires affecting military, industrial, and other infrastructure useful to the war effort in Ukraine has claimed an oil storage facility in the city of Bryansk, around 70 miles northeast of the border with Ukraine. Videos appear to show a significant fire and a huge pall of smoke, as well as apparent explosions.
Russian officials confirmed the blaze and said that an investigation would look into the cause of the fire, which started early this morning, local time.
Gen. Austin’s next stop will be at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where he will be meeting his counterparts from more than 20 nations as well as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. Again, Ukraine will be the main point on the agenda, including options for further security assistance. Another topic announced by U.S. officials will be military production capacity and how this has been affected by the conflict in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, in eastern Ukraine, the Russian offensive continues as the Ukrainian Armed Forces adapt to the demands of fighting in this flatter, more open environment, something we looked at in detail in this past story. The focus of the Russian campaign in this region may now have shifted now to Ukraine’s second-biggest city, Kharkiv, with reports from Ukraine’s general staff of Russian shelling.
One Ukrainian response to the new Donbas offensive has been to seek additional heavy artillery, including 155mm towed howitzers supplied by the United States. Today, a group of more than 50 Ukrainian soldiers is expected to complete their training course on these weapons, 18 of which are being supplied initially, together with 40,000 artillery rounds. Artillery, including self-propelled guns, are also heading to Ukraine from other NATO sources, too.
The U.S. announcement of more arms to Ukraine elicited a warning from Moscow’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov. He said that U.S. arms deliveries to Ukraine were only escalating the conflict and making chances of some kind of peace agreement less likely.
“What the Americans are doing is pouring oil on the flames,” Antonov told the Rossiya 24 TV channel. “I see only an attempt to raise the stakes, to aggravate the situation, to see more losses.”
Weapons continue to flow to Ukraine from other countries, too, although Germany, which has been among the slowest to respond to this call, is still yet to approve the transfer of 100 surplus Marder infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), a type you can read more about here.
The Marders, which would be the first German heavy weapons delivered to Ukraine since the conflict began, are awaiting export approval, which has been requested by Rheinmetall, which would refurbish the IFVs prior to delivery.
The transfer needs to be approved by Berlin’s national security council and could present a challenge to Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who has been widely criticized for dragging his heels on heavy weapons shipments to Ukraine.
In the south of Ukraine, meanwhile, there have been reports that the Russian-occupied city of Kherson is due to hold a “staged referendum,” which would supposedly justify the presence of Russian troops in the long term. This development was announced by the U.K. Ministry of Defense in its latest intelligence report.
Another recent focus of fighting in the south has been the besieged city of Mariupol, where Russian forces continue to launch missile and bomb strikes against the Azovstal steel plant, where the last remaining pocket of Ukrainian resistance is located. Alongside Ukrainian soldiers, there are still reportedly more than 1,000 civilians holed up in the plant.
Western and central Ukraine has also been targeted by Russian strikes in recent hours, with unverified reports of attacks on five different railway stations. For its part, Russian claims to have hit 56 different Ukrainian military infrastructure targets overnight.
Extraordinary footage has also emerged showing the apparent demise of a Russian Aerospace Forces Su-34 Fullback strike aircraft. Although the location and date of the incident remain unconfirmed, the aircraft is clearly seen in a flat spin, in which an aircraft plummets from the sky in rotational motion with no forward speed. A flat spin is sometimes impossible to recover from, which was the case here, although it’s unclear whether the jet was hit by an air defense system or suffered some other kind of failure.
Ukrainian forces continue to capture Russian materiel and, in some cases, return it to use. One of the most interesting Russian vehicles to have been captured is this T-90M tank, imagery of which emerged recently. The especially notable feature of this vehicle is the remote weapon station mounted atop the turret. This appears to be of the type mounted above the commander’s hatch and armed with an NSVT 12.7mm heavy machine gun.
The U.K. Ministry of Defense has released its latest assessment of Russian losses sustained during the fighting so far.
Speaking to parliament today, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said that around 15,000 Russian personnel have been killed since the fighting began on February 24. Noteworthy is the fact that this figure is in excess of most estimates of Soviet personnel killed during the war in Afghanistan. During that conflict, which lasted from 1979 to 1989, around 14,500 Soviet soldiers were killed.
“It is our assessment that approximately 15,000 Russian personnel have been killed during their offensive,” Wallace said. “Alongside the death toll are the equipment losses and in total, a number of sources suggest that to date over 2,000 armored vehicles have been destroyed or captured. This includes at least 530 tanks, 530 armored personnel carriers, and 560 infantry fighting vehicles,” Wallace added. The defense secretary also said that the U.K. assessment of Russian air losses amounted to over 60 helicopters and fighter jets.
Wallace also provided an update of British weapons supplied to Ukraine since the fighting began. These comprise more than 5,000 anti-tank missiles, five air defense systems with more than 100 missiles (presumably Stormer armored fighting vehicles as well as Starstreak missiles), 1,360 anti-structure munitions, and 4.5 tonnes of plastic explosives.
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