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US, Britain and Canada pledge more weapons for Ukraine as Russia seizes first town in renewed eastern assault

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A woman mourns during a funeral of a relative, who died during shelling by Russian troops, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, at the cemetery in Irpin, Kyiv region. Picture: Reuters

A woman mourns during a funeral of a relative, who died during shelling by Russian troops, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, at the cemetery in Irpin, Kyiv region. Picture: Reuters

Russian business tycoon Oleg Tinkov. Picture: Reuters

Russian business tycoon Oleg Tinkov. Picture: Reuters

Ludmyla, 63, walks past her house, which was destroyed by air missiles, in Trostianets, Sumy region, Ukraine. Picture: Reuters

Ludmyla, 63, walks past her house, which was destroyed by air missiles, in Trostianets, Sumy region, Ukraine. Picture: Reuters

Ukrainian servicemen sit atop an armoured fighting vehicle, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues in Eastern Ukraine. Picture: Reuters

Ukrainian servicemen sit atop an armoured fighting vehicle, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues in Eastern Ukraine. Picture: Reuters

Smoke rises above Azovstal steelworks, in Mariupol, Ukraine. Picture: Reuters

Smoke rises above Azovstal steelworks, in Mariupol, Ukraine. Picture: Reuters

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A woman mourns during a funeral of a relative, who died during shelling by Russian troops, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, at the cemetery in Irpin, Kyiv region. Picture: Reuters

The leaders of the United States, Britain and Canada pledged on Tuesday to send more artillery weaponry to Ukraine in the face of an all-out Russian assault on that country's East.

U.S. President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acted after they and other allied leaders took part in a secure video call as the Russian invasion reached a new phase.

Biden is expected to announce in coming days another military aid package for Ukraine about the same size as the $800 million one announced last week, multiple sources familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

If the aid package is as large as expected, it would bring total U.S. military aid to Ukraine since Russia invaded in February to well over $3 billion.

Asked by reporters during a visit to New Hampshire if the United States would be sending more artillery to Ukraine, Biden replied yes.

In London, Johnson told lawmakers: "This will become an artillery conflict, they need support with more artillery, that is what we will be giving them ... in addition to many other forms of support."

Trudeau said Canada would be sending heavy artillery and promised to provide more details.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Air Force One the leaders reaffirmed their commitment to providing Ukraine security and economic and humanitarian assistance.

"We will continue to provide them more ammunition, as we will provide them more military assistance," Psaki said. She said the United States was preparing another round of sanctions to impose on Moscow.

In their 90-minute video call, Biden and the allies discussed their diplomatic engagements and coordinated efforts to further impose "severe economic costs to hold Russia accountable," Psaki said.

They are to coordinate through the G7, the European Union and NATO, she said.

Russia seized its first town in eastern Ukraine as part of a fresh assault that Ukraine has described as the Battle of the Donbas aimed at taking two provinces.

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The United States sees Russia carrying out a "prelude" to larger offensive operations in the eastern part of its neighboring country, a senior U.S. official said on Tuesday.

Biden's video call from the White House Situation Room included European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg as well as the leaders of Italy, Japan and Poland.

A French presidential adviser said the allies had discussed how to provide security guarantees to Ukraine after the war if it is not part of NATO and its automatic defence mechanism known as Article 5.

"Our country is ready to provide security guarantees," the French official said. "It would be military supplies so that it can deal with a new attack or, possibly, guarantees that would see us get involved if Ukraine is attacked in a way where we could assess how to assist it."

These guarantees would look more like the defence clause the European Union currently has among its members, the French official said, rather than a defence mechanism similar to NATO's Article 5, which triggers automatic military support if a member is attacked.

Allies also discussed the need to persuade non-EU, non-G7 countries to treat the war in Ukraine as an issue that concerns world peace and not just Europe or the West, the French official said.

‘Crazy war’

Wealthy Russian businessman Oleg Tinkov on Tuesday condemned what he called Moscow's "crazy war" in Ukraine, saying 90pc of his countrymen did not support it and calling on the West to offer Vladimir Putin a dignified way to withdraw.

"I don't see a single beneficiary of this crazy war! Innocent people and soldiers are dying," Tinkov, who founded Tinkoff Bank, Russia's second biggest credit card issuer, wrote in an Instagram post, one of the most outspoken broadsides against the conflict by a Russian tycoon.

Several Russian billionaires have publicly called for peace, but many Russians have rallied to the Kremlin, which has whipped up support with a publicity campaign using the "Z" logo of the armed forces.

"Of course there are morons who draw Z, but 10pc of any country are morons. 90pc of Russians are AGAINST this war!" wrote Tinkov, who has denied having any close relationship with Putin or the Kremlin.

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Russian business tycoon Oleg Tinkov. Picture: Reuters

Russian business tycoon Oleg Tinkov. Picture: Reuters

Russian business tycoon Oleg Tinkov. Picture: Reuters

"Kremlin officials are shocked that neither they or their children will be off to the Mediterranean in the summer. Businessmen are trying to save the rest of their property," he said.

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Ludmyla, 63, walks past her house, which was destroyed by air missiles, in Trostianets, Sumy region, Ukraine. Picture: Reuters

Ludmyla, 63, walks past her house, which was destroyed by air missiles, in Trostianets, Sumy region, Ukraine. Picture: Reuters

Ludmyla, 63, walks past her house, which was destroyed by air missiles, in Trostianets, Sumy region, Ukraine. Picture: Reuters

Russia's offensive in Ukraine quickly stalled in the face of stiff Ukrainian resistance and Moscow has abandoned assaults on the capital Kyiv in the north of the country to launch a new offensive in the east.

"The (Russian) generals, waking up with a hangover, realized that they had a shit army," Tinkov wrote. "And how could the army be good if everything else in the country is shit and mired in nepotism, sycophancy and servility?"

Switching to English, Tinkov wrote: "Dear 'collective West' please give Mr. Putin a clear exit to save his face and stop this massacre. Please be more rational and humanitarian."

Tinkov owns around 35pc of Cyprus-based TCS Group Holding , whose stable of companies under the Tinkoff brand span sectors from banking and insurance to mobile services. The company's share price has plummeted this year.

Tinkov, 54, stepped down as chairman of Tinkoff Bank in 2020. TCS said last month Tinkov did not occupy any decision-making position and sanctions against him would not affect the company.

It is not clear whether Tinkov is currently in Russia.

Ukraine's lead negotiator said on Tuesday it was hard to predict when peace talks might resume because of Russia's siege of Mariupol and what he portrayed as Moscow's desire to strengthen its position through a new military offensive.

Kyiv and Moscow have not held face-to-face talks since March 29, and the atmosphere has soured over Ukrainian allegations that Russian troops carried out atrocities in a town near Kyiv. Moscow has denied the accusations.

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Ukrainian servicemen sit atop an armoured fighting vehicle, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues in Eastern Ukraine. Picture: Reuters

Ukrainian servicemen sit atop an armoured fighting vehicle, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues in Eastern Ukraine. Picture: Reuters

Ukrainian servicemen sit atop an armoured fighting vehicle, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues in Eastern Ukraine. Picture: Reuters

Mykhailo Podolyak, Ukraine's top negotiator, told Reuters the continuing siege of Mariupol and the repeated failure of attempts to arrange safe corridors for the evacuation of trapped Ukrainian civilians had also complicated matters.

"Obviously, against the backdrop of the Mariupol tragedy, the negotiation process has become even more complicated," he said in a written response to questions about peace talks.

"Russia defiantly renounces any manifestations of humanity and humanism when it comes to certain humanitarian corridors. Especially when we talk about Mariupol."

Each side blames the other for the breakdown of peace talks and the failure of negotiations on safe corridors for civilians.

Podolyak said some contacts were continuing online to "clean up" agreements reached on future guarantees for the security of Ukraine, ensuring they were compliant with international law.

"It is difficult to say when the next face-to-face round of negotiations will be possible because the Russians are seriously betting on (making gains in) the so-called 'second stage of the special operation'," he said.

Local authorities say thousands of people have been killed in the siege of Mariupol, and Russia have given the last Ukrainian defenders holed up in a steel works an ultimatum to surrender or die. Podolyak said Russia wanted to crush the last fighters in Mariupol for "internal propaganda" purposes.

Russia denies targeting civilians in its "special operation" which it says is intended to demilitarise Ukraine and root out dangerous nationalists, and says the defenders of Mariupol include far-right fighters. Kyiv and the West dismiss Russia's stance as a pretext for an unprovoked invasion.

Moscow has accused Ukraine of faking atrocities to undermine peace talks which President Vladimir Putin said on April 12 had come to a dead end.

Ukrainian troops this month showed journalists corpses of what they said were civilians killed by Russian forces in the town of Bucha outside Kyiv after Russian troops retreated. Reuters saw dead bodies in Bucha but could not independently verify who was responsible for the killings.

Battle for the east

Russia ratcheted up its battle for control of Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland on Tuesday, assaulting cities and towns along a boomerang-shaped front hundreds of miles long in what both sides described as a new phase of the war.

After a Russian push to overrun the capital failed, the Kremlin declared that its main goal was the capture of the mostly Russian-speaking eastern Donbas region, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years.

If successful, that offensive would give President Vladimir Putin a vital piece of Ukraine and a badly needed victory in the now 7-week-old war that he could present to the Russian people amid mounting casualties and economic hardship caused by the West’s sanctions.

It would also effectively slice Ukraine in two and deprive it of the main industrial assets concentrated in the east, including coal mines, metals plants and machine-building factories.

Ukraine’s military said early on Tuesday that a “new phase of war” began a day earlier when “the occupiers made an attempt to break through our defences along nearly the entire front line.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that “another phase of this operation is starting now.”

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Smoke rises above Azovstal steelworks, in Mariupol, Ukraine. Picture: Reuters

Smoke rises above Azovstal steelworks, in Mariupol, Ukraine. Picture: Reuters

Smoke rises above Azovstal steelworks, in Mariupol, Ukraine. Picture: Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that massive numbers of Russian troops were committed to the campaign, though some observers noted that an escalation has been underway there for some time and questioned whether this was truly the start of new offensive.

Justin Crump, a former British tank commander now with the strategic advisory company Sibylline, said the Ukrainian comments could, in part, be an attempt to persuade allies to send more weapons.

“What they’re trying to do by positioning this, I think, is ... focus people’s minds and effort by saying, ‘Look, the conflict has begun in the Donbas,’” Crump said. “That partly puts pressure on NATO and EU suppliers to say, ‘Guys, we’re starting to fight now. We need this now.’”

European and American arms have been key to bolstering Ukraine's defence, helping the under-gunned country to hold off the Russians. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told Zelensky on Tuesday that the Netherlands would send “heavier material," including armored vehicles.

In what appeared to be an intensification of attacks, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said that air-launched missiles destroyed 13 Ukrainian troop and weapons locations, while the air force struck 60 other Ukrainian military facilities, including missile warhead storage depots.

Russian artillery hit 1,260 Ukrainian military facilities and 1,214 troops concentrations over the last 24 hours, Konashenkov said Tuesday. The claims could not be independently verified.

The assaults began Monday along a front that stretches more than 480 kilometres from northeastern Ukraine to the country's southeast.

Russia said it struck several areas with missiles, including the northeastern city of Kharkiv as well as as areas around Zaporizhzhia and Dnipro west of the Donbas.

Associated Press journalists in Kharkiv said at least four people were killed and three wounded in a Russian attack on a residential area of the city, which is near the front lines and has faced repeated shelling. The attack occurred as residents attempted Tuesday to maintain a sense of normalcy, with municipal workers planting spring flowers in public areas.

An explosion also rocked the eastern city of Kramatorsk on Tuesday, killing at least one person and wounding three, according to AP journalists at the scene.

Eyewitness accounts and reports from officials have given a broad picture of the extent of the Russian advance. But independent reporting in the parts of the Donbas held by Russian forces and separatists is severely limited, making it difficult to know what is happening in many places on the ground.

Moscow's troops seized control of one town in the Donbas on Monday, according to Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai. Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s national security council, said that the defensive line had held elsewhere.

The breakthrough in Kreminna takes the Russians one small step closer to their apparent goal of encircling Ukrainian troops in the region.

Retired British Gen. Richard Barrons told the BBC that "in this particular battle the Russians will be approaching the Ukrainians from the east, but also from the north and the south to try and get behind them, and so this is a more complex military problem for the Ukrainians.”

Key to the campaign to take the east is the capture of Mariupol, the port city in the Donbas that the Russians have besieged since the early days of the war and where shelling continued.

A few thousand Ukrainian troops, by the Russians’ estimate, were holed up in a sprawling steel plant, representing what was believed to be the last major pocket of resistance in the shattered city.

On Tuesday, Russia issued a new ultimatum to the Ukrainian defenders to surrender, saying those who come out will “keep their lives," and said a cease-fire was being declared in the area so the combatants could leave the plant. The Ukrainians have ignored previous such offers, and there was no immediate confirmation a cease-fire occurred.

The Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, whose forces have taken part in the fighting in Mariupol, said on a messaging app that Russian forces would root out the Ukrainian resistance within hours and take full control of the steel mill on Tuesday. Kadyrov is known for his bluster and has repeatedly predicted the city’s fall in the past.

Securing Mariupol would free Russian troops up to move elsewhere in the Donbas, deprive Ukraine of a vital port, and complete a land bridge between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, seized from Ukraine from 2014.


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