Ukraine crisis: Russians consolidate their hold on Sievierodonetsk – News
US announces $700m weapons package for Kyiv, including advanced rocket systems
On Thursday, Russian forces were trying to extend and consolidate their grip on the Ukrainian industrial city of Sievierodonetsk, coming close to winning a big prize in their offensive in the eastern region of Donbass.
But in a boost for Ukraine, locked in an uphill battle against the invading Russian army, the United States announced a $700 million weapons package for Kyiv that will include advanced rocket systems with a range of up to 80 km.
Moscow accused the United States of having “added fuel to the fire”. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the supply of the rocket launchers increased the risk of a “third country” being drawn into the conflict.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Ukraine had promised it would not use the systems to hit targets inside Russia. U.S. President Joe Biden hopes extending Ukrainian artillery range will help Russia negotiate an end to the war, which is now in its fourth month.
After days of heavy fighting around Sievierodonetsk, much of which was devastated by Russian shelling, Russian troops slowly advanced through the streets of the city. Ukraine says around 70% of the city is under Russian control, with Russian troops in the city center.
“The enemy is carrying out assault operations in the settlement of Sievierodonetsk,” the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff said on Thursday, adding that Russian forces were also attacking in other parts of the east and north- is.
At least four civilians were killed and 10 injured in the east and northeast, other officials said.
Russia denies targeting civilians.
If Russia fully captured Sievierodonetsk and its smaller twin Lysychansk on the west bank of the Siverskyi Donets River, it would hold all of Luhansk, one of two Donbass provinces that Moscow claims on behalf of the separatists.
Capturing all of Luhansk would fulfill one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s main objectives and cement a change in the momentum of the battlefield after his forces were pushed back from the capital Kyiv and northern Ukraine.
Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai told Reuters civilians were taking shelter from Russian attacks under a chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk which he said was hit by an airstrike on Tuesday, releasing a large pink cloud. Read the full story
“There are civilians there in bomb shelters, quite a few left,” Gaidai said. Reuters could not independently confirm the account.
About 15,000 people remained in the city, Gaidai said.
Gaidai warned that Ukrainian troops in Sievierodonetsk might be forced to retreat to Lysychansk, which he said was easier to defend from its vantage point on a hill.
Putin sent his troops across the border in what he called a special military operation on Feb. 24 to disarm Ukraine. Kyiv and its allies call it a baseless pretext for a war of aggression and the West has imposed harsh sanctions on Russia in an effort to strangle its economy.
Thousands of people have been killed in Ukraine and millions more displaced since the invasion began.
Amid concerns over the global ramifications of the war, Ukraine’s Grain Traders Union said this year’s wheat harvest is expected to drop to 19.2 million tonnes from a record 33 million in 2021.
Biden is due to meet NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday. Stoltenberg told reporters he would soon convene a meeting in Brussels with Swedish, Finnish and Turkish officials to discuss Turkey’s opposition to Sweden and Finland joining NATO.
Along with advanced rocket systems, called HIMARS, the new US package includes munitions, counterfire radars, air surveillance radars, additional Javelin anti-tank missiles and anti-armour weapons, officials said.
“The United States will stand with our Ukrainian partners and continue to provide Ukraine with weapons and equipment to defend itself,” Biden said in a statement.
The decision to give Ukraine the rocket systems came after Washington received assurances from Kyiv that it would not use them to strike targets inside Russian territory, which could expand the war.
Ukraine has been researching multiple launch rocket systems such as the M270 and M142 HIMARS to provide more firepower at longer ranges to hit Russian forces well behind the front line.