Russia close to encircling Ukraine’s Bakhmut; US to provide $400 mln in new aid | Top developments
As Russia aims to complete the encirclement of Bakhmut, the country’s army on Friday pounded the last routes out of the besieged Ukrainian city. Bakhmut, which has been blasted to ruins, was almost completely surrounded with only one road still open for Ukraine’s troops, the head of Russia’s Wagner private army was quoted by Reuters as saying.
The commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, visited Bakhmut on Friday for briefings with local commanders on how to boost the defence capacity of frontline forces.
Denys Yaroslavskyi, commander of a Ukrainian army unit at Bakhmut, told Espreso TV that parts of some units had been ordered to rotate to more secured positions, describing the situation since the morning as “a slaughterhouse on both sides.”
A Russian victory in Bakhmut, with a pre-war population of about 70,000, would give it the first major prize in a costly winter offensive, after it called up hundreds of thousands of reservists last year.
Before the war, Bakhmut was known for salt and gypsum mines. Ukraine says the city has little strategic value and the huge casualties Russia has suffered, trying to take Bakhmut could shape the course of the conflict.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy visited wounded soldiers at a military hospital in Lviv. He, however, gave no details of the fighting in Bakhmut during an evening video address in which he thanked troops for “firmly and bravely” defending the city.
US ANNOUNCES $400 MLN IN NEW ARMS AID TO UKRAINE
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has announced another round of military aid for Ukraine, a package of ammunition and other support valued at $400 million.
In a first, the aid will include tactical bridges to move tanks and armored vehicles.
The bridges could be used by Ukrainian troops who have been training in “combined arms maneuver” warfare, which is the coordinated use of artillery shelling, alongside tank and armored vehicle attack movements, to retake territory seized by Russian forces since they invaded Ukraine a year ago.
The additional ammunition is being sent to help boost stocks in anticipation of a spring offensive.
Overall, the United States has provided nearly $32 billion in aid to Ukraine to defend itself against Russia, which invaded its pro-Western neighbor on Feb. 24 last year.
BIDEN, SCHOLZ VOW TO PUNISH RUSSIA
Washington has begun consulting with allies about imposing possible sanctions on China should Beijing provide military support to Russia for its war in Ukraine, Reuters reported this week, citing US officials and other sources.
Washington has said in recent weeks that China was considering providing weapons to Russia, although US officials have not provided evidence or said that such supplies have started. Beijing has denied any intention to arm Russia.
At the White House, US President Joe Biden on Friday thanked visiting German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for “profound” support on Ukraine. The two leaders vowed to keep imposing costs on Russia for its war in Ukraine, now in its second year, as an EU official said any arms provided by China to Russia would trigger sanctions.
Scholz said it was important to send the message that backing Ukraine will continue “as long as it takes and as long as is necessary.”
After their meeting, the White House said the pair reiterated their commitment to impose costs on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
Scholz has been criticised by some Western allies for taking a cautious public stance toward arming Ukraine, although he has overseen a big shift in policy from a country that was Russia’s biggest energy customer before the war.
Kyiv’s ambassador in Berlin, Oleksii Makeiev, said Germany was now taking more of a leadership role in arming Ukraine.
BLINKEN, LAVROV EXCHANGE DIPLOMATIC SWIPES
At the G20 foreign ministers gathering in New Delhi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday accused the United States of hypocrisy after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Russia cannot be allowed to wage war in Ukraine with impunity, during a security forum they attended in New Delhi on Friday.
The top diplomats from Moscow and Washington had both attended the G20 gathering and met in person for the first time since Russian forces invaded Ukraine a year ago.
“If we allow with impunity Russia to do what it’s doing in Ukraine, then that’s a message to would-be aggressors everywhere that they may be able to get away with it too,” Blinken told the Raisina Dialogue strategic affairs forum.
Speaking at the same strategic affairs forum after Blinken, Lavrov said it was “double standards” to question Russia’s action in Ukraine when the United States cited a “threat to its national interest” to justify military intervention in various parts of the world, including the war in Iraq, air strikes on Libya, and the bombing of Yugoslavia during the Kosovo conflict in 1999.
Lavrov also said the question of when Russia will negotiate an end to the war should be put to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.