By JOHN LEICESTER and FRANK JORDANS
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The United States and Germany pledged on Wednesday to equip Ukraine with some of the advanced weapons it has long wanted to shoot down planes and knock out artillery, as Russian forces are closing in on capturing a key city to the east.
Germany said it would supply Ukraine with state-of-the-art anti-aircraft missiles and radar systems, while the United States said it would supply four sophisticated medium-range rocket systems and ammunition.
The United States is trying to help Ukraine push back the Russians without starting a wider war in Europe. The Pentagon said it had received assurances that Ukraine would not fire the new rockets into Russian territory.
The Kremlin accused the United States of “throwing oil on the fire”.
Western weapons have been critical to Ukraine’s success in thwarting the much larger and better equipped Russian military, thwarting its efforts to storm the capital and forcing Moscow to focus on the industrial Donbass region instead. is.
But as Russia bombs cities in its slow advance east, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly pleaded for more and better weapons and accused the West of advancing too slowly.
Andriy Yermak, the head of the Ukrainian president’s office, hailed the new Western weapons.
“I am sure that if we receive all the necessary weapons and strengthen the effective sanctions regime, we will win,” he said.
The new weapons could help Ukraine set up and maintain new defense lines in the east by hitting back at Russian artillery pieces that have battered towns and cities and limiting Russian airstrikes, said retired French General Dominique Trinquand, former leader of France. Military mission to the United Nations.
“The NATO countries – the European nations and the Americans – have gradually increased the means they are making available to Ukraine, and this escalation, in my opinion, has been intended to test Russian limits” , did he declare. “Each time, they measure the Russian reaction, and since there is no reaction, they continue to supply more and more effective and sophisticated armaments.”
Military analysts say Russia hopes to invade Donbass before the arrival of weapons that could turn the tide. It will take at least three weeks to bring US precision weapons and trained troops to the battlefield, the Pentagon said. But Undersecretary of Defense Colin Kahl said he believed they would arrive in time to make a difference in the fight.
The rocket systems are part of a new $700 million security assistance program for Ukraine from the United States, which also includes helicopters, Javelin anti-tank weapons systems, radars , tactical vehicles, spare parts and more.
Rockets have a range of about 50 miles (80 kilometers) and are highly mobile. Ukraine had unsuccessfully pushed for rockets with a range of up to 186 miles (300 kilometers).
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow did not trust assurances that Ukraine would not fire on Russian territory. “We believe the United States is deliberately and diligently throwing oil on the fire,” he said.
Colonel-General Mikhail Mizintzev then went further, directly accusing Ukraine of planning to fire US-supplied missiles from the northeast region of Sumy at Russia’s border areas. The claim, which he said was based on radio intercepts, could not be independently confirmed.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Ukraine’s push for more weapons is a “direct provocation meant to draw the West into the fighting”. He warned that the multiple rocket launchers would increase the risk of a wider conflict.
“Sane Western politicians understand these risks well,” he said.
As the new arms deliveries were announced, a Russian missile hit train tracks in the western Lviv region, a key conduit for the supply of Western weapons and other supplies, officials said. Regional Governor Maksym Kozytskyy said five people were injured in Wednesday’s strike, and the head of Ukraine’s railways said the damage was still being assessed.
Germany’s pledge of IRIS-T air defense systems would mark the first delivery of long-range air defense weapons to Ukraine since the start of the war. Earlier deliveries of shoulder-fired man-portable air defense missiles bolstered the Ukrainian military’s ability to shoot down helicopters and other low-flying aircraft, but did not give it sufficient range to challenge superiority. air force of Russia.
Germany has faced particular criticism, both domestically and from allies abroad, that it is not doing enough. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told lawmakers that the IRIS-T surface-to-air missiles are the country’s most modern air defense system.
“With this, we will enable Ukraine to defend an entire city against Russian air attacks,” he said. Radar systems will also help Ukraine locate enemy artillery.
A regional governor said Russian forces now control 80% of Sievierodonetsk, a city that is key to Moscow’s efforts to complete its takeover of Donbass, where Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists have fought for years and where the separatists even held swathes of territory. before the invasion.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said Russian troops were advancing through the city in fierce street battles with Ukrainian forces, although he noted that in some districts Ukrainian troops managed to push them back.
The only other city of Luhansk the Russians have yet to capture, Lysychansk, is still fully under Ukrainian control, he said, but will likely be the next target. The two towns are separated by a river.
“If the Russians manage to take full control of Sievierodonetsk within two to three days, they will start installing artillery and mortars and bombard Lysychansk more intensively,” Haidai said.
Zelenskyy, meanwhile, said the country was losing between 60 and 100 soldiers a day in the fighting.
He focused on children in his nightly video address, saying 243 of them were killed in the war, 446 were injured and 139 are missing. The actual numbers could be higher, he added, because his government does not have a full picture of the areas under Russian occupation.
Zelenskyy also said that 200,000 children were among the Ukrainians who were forcibly taken to Russia and dispersed across this vast country: “The purpose of this criminal policy is not just to rob people but to make Ukraine forget to those who are expelled and unable to return. .”
In southern Ukraine, a regional governor sounded more positive, saying Russian troops were retreating and blowing up bridges behind them.
“They are afraid of a counterattack by the Ukrainian army,” Vitaliy Kim, governor of the Mykolaiv region, said on the Telegram messaging app.
Jordans reported from Berlin. Associated Press writers Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Ukraine, Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.
Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine