(CN) — Tensions between Moscow and the West are escalating further after the United States and Germany said they are sending advanced heavy-duty weapons to aid Ukraine in its defense against Russia’s invasion.
On Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden announced in a New York Times opinion piece that Kyiv will receive “more advanced rocket systems and munitions that will enable them to more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield in Ukraine.”
Germany, too, said it would provide Ukraine with advanced missiles fired by airplane – its IRIS-T missiles – and air defense tanks in July. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat, at first hesitated over arms shipments but he’s now pushing to equip Ukraine and turn Germany into Europe’s strongest army.
In response, the Kremlin said arming Ukraine with more sophisticated and more deadly weapons raises the risk of a direct clash between Russia and the West, especially if Ukraine uses the new weapons to strike targets in Russia. U.S. officials said they had been reassured by Kyiv that new medium-range missiles will not be used to hit targets inside Russia. Still, Russia accuses Ukraine of repeatedly firing upon targets in Russia close to the border.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists that the U.S. “is deliberately pouring oil on the fire” by increasing arms shipments to Kyiv.
How much and how soon the new weapons can change the course of the war remains uncertain, but on Wednesday the Pentagon said it would take at least three weeks for the four medium-range rocket systems going to Ukraine to be ready for battle because Ukrainian soldiers need to be trained to use them. For now, at least, Russia has the upper hand in firepower.
On Wednesday, Russian troops continued to increase their hold on the eastern Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk and were preparing to assault Lysychansk, a neighboring city that sits across the Siverskyi Donetsk River from Sievierodonetsk. Lysychansk is on higher ground and may prove to be harder to seize for Russian forces.
Together, the two industrial cities had a population of more than 200,000 people before the war. There are reportedly lots of civilians who remain trapped in and around the cities. Electricity, water, food and other basic needs are scarce. Civilian deaths caused by the shelling of both sides continues to mount.
Ukraine is suffering heavy losses in the fighting, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an interview. He said each day between 60 and 100 soldiers are killed and up to 500 wounded during the fighting over Donbas, as eastern parts of Ukraine are known.
Russia, too, is suffering heavy losses. On Wednesday, Western officials estimated that about 15,000 Russian troops have been killed and 40,000 wounded since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion on Feb. 24, according to media reports.
Ukraine and Russia have not provided complete casualty figures. Ukraine claims that more than 30,000 Russian troops have been killed, but that is likely an inflated number.
In his New York Times piece, Biden said “the Ukrainian people surprised Russia and inspired the world with their sacrifice, grit and battlefield success.”
He said the United States had led the “free world” in rallying to “Ukraine’s side with unprecedented military, humanitarian and financial support.”
“As the war goes on, I want to be clear about the aims of the United States in these efforts,” Biden wrote. “America’s goal is straightforward: We want to see a democratic, independent, sovereign and prosperous Ukraine with the means to deter and defend itself against further aggression.”
Biden said the U.S. has sent 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.”
To that end, he said he’d decided to send the new rocket systems and that the U.S. will continue arming Ukraine “with Javelin anti-tank missiles, Stinger antiaircraft missiles, powerful artillery and precision rocket systems, radars, unmanned aerial vehicles, Mi-17 helicopters and ammunition.”
U.S. officials said Ukraine will receive the high mobility artillery rocket system, or HIMARS. It fires powerful satellite-guided rockets that can strike targets up to 48 miles away. Ukraine doesn’t have weapons that can strike that far away in use now.
The new weapons are part of a new $700 million arms package for Ukraine. Congress approved spending $40 billion in weapons and humanitarian aid for Ukraine.
Biden also said the U.S. is not seeking to go to war with Russia and not trying to oust Putin from power. During a visit to Warsaw in Poland, Biden suggested he backed regime change in Moscow when he called Putin a “butcher” and said “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”
In the New York Times piece, Biden tried to present the U.S. as not seeking to fuel the war in Ukraine to weaken Russia even though U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stated that as a goal during a visit to Europe in April.
“Standing by Ukraine in its hour of need is not just the right thing to do. It is in our vital national interests to ensure a peaceful and stable Europe and to make it clear that might does not make right,” Biden wrote. “If Russia does not pay a heavy price for its actions, it will send a message to other would-be aggressors that they too can seize territory and subjugate other countries. It will put the survival of other peaceful democracies at risk. And it could mark the end of the rules-based international order and open the door to aggression elsewhere, with catastrophic consequences the world over.”
The view from Moscow, of course, is very different and Russia’s deputy foreign minister said Biden’s announcement about the delivery of HIMARS was regarded by the Kremlin “extremely negatively,” according to RIA Novosti, a Russian state news agency.
“Attempts to present the decision as containing an element of ‘self-restraint’ are useless,” said Sergei Ryabkov, the deputy foreign minister. “The fact that the United States, at the head of a group of states, is engaged in a purposeful pumping of weapons into the Kyiv regime is an obvious thing.”
He said the new weapons would increase the risk of a direct confrontation.
Battles in Ukraine continued to rage with Russia’s defense ministry saying in its daily report that it had struck several Ukrainian command posts, knocked out numerous heavy weapons and military vehicles, shot down an airplane and a helicopter, and killed 140 Ukrainian soldiers within the past day.
In its daily update, Ukraine too claimed to have dealt Russia heavy losses. It said 200 Russian troops were killed, one helicopter shot down and that it had destroyed a number of vehicles and weapons.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.
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