Western nations promised more and more advanced arms to bolster Ukraine’s defense as its troops battled a grinding Russian offensive that was closing in on capturing a key city in the east.
Germany said Wednesday it will supply Ukraine with modern anti-aircraft missiles and radar systems, and the U.S. will unveil a new weapons package later in the day that will include high-tech, medium-range rocket systems.
The Kremlin spokesman told reporters Wednesday that the U.S. is “pouring fuel on the fire.”
Western arms have been critical to Ukraine’s success in stymieing Russia’s much larger and better equipped military — thwarting its initial efforts to take the capital and forcing Moscow to shift its focus instead to the eastern industrial Donbas region.
But as the war drags on and Russia bombards towns in its inching advance in the east, Ukraine has repeatedly pleaded for more and better weapons. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has occasionally criticized the West for moving too slowly in shipping arms — and military analysts have said Russia is hoping to overrun the Donbas before any weapons that might turn the tide arrive.
Germany has come under particular fire, both at home and from allies abroad, that it isn’t doing enough.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told lawmakers that the surface-to-air IRIS-T SLM missiles it will send are the most modern air defense system the country has. They can operate at longer ranges than the Cold War-era anti-aircraft vehicles it has previously provided.
“With this, we will enable Ukraine to defend an entire city from Russian air attacks,” he said. The radar systems Germany is sending will help Ukraine locate enemy artillery.
Scholz said Germany and the United States are coordinating their moves.
In addition to the rocket systems it has promised, the U.S. package will include helicopters, Javelin anti-tank weapon systems, tactical vehicles, spare parts and more, two senior administration officials said Tuesday. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview the package before it is formally unveiled.
One official noted that the advanced rocket systems will give Ukrainian forces greater precision in targeting Russian assets inside Ukraine.
Moscow views the U.S. plans to supply more weapons “negatively,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday, saying the Kremlin doesn’t trust Kyiv’s assurances that the rocket systems will not be used to attack Russia.
“We believe that the U.S. is deliberately and diligently pouring fuel on the fire,” Peskov said.
The announcements come as a regional governor said Russian forces now control 70% of Sievierodonetsk, a city that is key to Moscow’s efforts to complete their capture of the Donbas, where Ukrainian and Russian-backed separatists have fought for years and where the separatists already held swaths of territory.
Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai said in a post on the Telegram messaging app that some Ukrainian troops have pulled back from the city, though he later told The Associated Press that the troops who remained were battling it out in the streets.
The only other city in Luhansk that the Russians have not yet captured, Lysychansk, is still “fully” under Ukrainian control, he said — but it would likely be next.
“If the Russians manage to take full control over Sievierodonetsk within two to three days, they will start installing artillery and mortars and will shell Lysychansk more intensively,” Haidai said.
Zelenskyy, meanwhile. said the country is losing between 60 and 100 soldiers a day in the fighting and that another 500 are wounded.
He told the U.S. TV channel Newsmax on Tuesday night that “the most difficult situation is in the east of Ukraine and southern Donetsk and Luhansk,” two regions that make up the Donbas.
In southern Ukraine, a regional governor sounded a more positive note, saying Russian troops are retreating and blowing up bridges to prevent a possible Ukrainian advance. Vitaliy Kim, governor of the Mykolayiv region, said in messages on Telegram on Wednesday that Russia was on the defensive.
“They are afraid of a counterattack by the Ukrainian army,” Kim wrote. He didn’t specify where the retreat was happening. The parts of the Mykolayiv region which have been held by Russian forces in recent days are close to the large Russia-held city of Kherson.
Zelenskyy said in his nightly address there had been “some success in the Kherson direction” for Ukraine.