President Biden and other Western leaders promised further military aid to Ukraine on Wednesday, while Russia sharply rejected the president’s description of its acts of war as “genocide.”
After an hour-long call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Biden announced that his administration had approved an additional $ 800 million in weapons, ammunition and other security assistance to Ukraine.
Biden – with the end of the seventh week of the war – said the new military aid “will include many of the highly effective weapons systems we have already provided and new capabilities tailored to the broader attack we expect Russia to launch in eastern Ukraine. ”
“The constant supply of weapons that the United States and its allies and partners have supplied to Ukraine has been crucial in sustaining its fight against the Russian invasion,” Biden said. “It simply came to our notice then [Russian President Vladimir] Putin failed in his first war goals of conquering and controlling Ukraine. We can not rest now. “
The latest package will include new capabilities that the United States has not sent to Ukraine before, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said, including 18 howitzer artillery cannons and 40,000 grenades for weapons and protective equipment against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear warfare. Earlier Wednesday, European Council officials announced that it agreed to $ 544 million in additional support for Ukrainian forces.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, meanwhile, fired back after Biden said earlier this week for the first time that Russia was committing genocide in Ukraine. Peskov told reporters that the remark was “hardly acceptable from a president of the United States, a country that has committed well-known crimes in recent times.”
While Russia’s attacks on Ukraine continued, Finland and Sweden took steps to join the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization, against which Putin had warned them for years.
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said the Nordic country, which shares a border with Russia, would decide whether to join NATO “within a few weeks.”
“Everything changed when Russia invaded Ukraine,” Marin told Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson at a news conference in Stockholm.
“I think people’s mindsets in Finland, also in Sweden, changed and [were] shaped very dramatically because of Russia’s actions, ”Marin said.
On Wednesday, Russian artillery struck Ukrainian cities and towns in preparation for what is expected to be a major offensive in the country’s eastern industrial heartland known as the Donbas. Satellite images from the US company Maxar Technologies have shown a growing build-up of Russian troops and heavy equipment in at least three probable staging sites for an attack.
Western military officials and analysts have predicted a fierce new phase of fighting when the offensive begins, but question whether Moscow’s military command can swing away from previous strategic shocks.
In an ongoing demonstration of support for Ukraine from NATO countries on the front lines, the presidents of Poland and the three Baltic states arrived in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, on Wednesday to speak with Zelensky.
Ukrainian officials took the visiting presidents to see for themselves one of the worst-damaged cities in the Kyiv region: Borodyanka, where Russian shelling and bombing destroyed numerous high-rise apartment buildings, among other structures. Authorities say dozens of people have been killed but have not given a final count of victims.
In Moscow, a Defense Ministry spokesman said 1,026 members of Ukraine’s 36th Marine Brigade, including more than 160 officers, had voluntarily laid down their arms as a result of “successful offensives” by Russian troops and militia in Mariupol. It was unclear from the announcement when the alleged surrender had taken place.
Earlier this week, the brigade had said in a Facebook post that it was running out of ammunition and had suffered a “mountain” of wounded. The Russian Defense Ministry said 151 Ukrainian soldiers were being treated at the scene of injuries or hospitalized.
Ukrainian military officials did not immediately comment on the Russian claim, saying only that the fight for the city continued.
Many previous Russian allegations, including weeks of pre-war Kremlin insistence that Russia had no plans to invade, have been proven false, and Moscow has justified the war with a comprehensive disinformation campaign, including allegations that Ukraine is controlled by Nazis.
If confirmed, however, the episode will represent one of the war’s largest single captives of Ukrainian troops.
Mariupol, on the Azov Sea, is considered a strategic award because it offers control over a land corridor between Russian-held territory and the Crimean peninsula, which Russia conquered in 2014. The city, which had a pre-war population of more than 400,000, has been hit by daily Russian bombings since the earliest days after the invasion on February 24, and its mayor says an estimated 20,000 people have been killed.
Before Russia’s claim of Mariupol, Ramzan Kadyrov, the pro-Moscow leader of the Russian Republic of Chechnya who has joined the invading force, went on the messaging app Telegram to urge the remaining Ukrainian forces to “end this senseless resistance.” Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelensky, said on Twitter that the defenders were fighting “for every meter of the city.”
Another presidential assistant, Oleksiy Arestovych, said online that parts of the Ukrainian brigade in question had managed to join other Ukrainian forces in a risky maneuver. He did not comment on the alleged surrender.
Russian state television showed pictures of what it said were the abandoned Ukrainian Marines being marched down a road.
The month-long Russian occupation of several Kiev suburbs and satellite cities left a gruesome trail of death and destruction that triggered an international outcry. Russia denies that its troops have committed atrocities against civilians, but international investigators have gathered evidence of possible war crimes, including execution-like killings and rapes.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a report on Wednesday that Russia had shown a “clear pattern” of violating international humanitarian law. Meanwhile, International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan, who is visiting the devastated Kyiv suburb of Bucha, has described the country as a “crime scene” in interviews with journalists.
The Ukrainian prosecutor’s office said on Wednesday that nearly 6,000 war crimes complaints had been filed, and Zelensky expressed in his video address overnight, outrage over Putin’s claim a day earlier that alleged atrocities in Bucha were false.
“There are not as many ‘staging specialists’ in the world as there are assassins in the Russian army,” Zelensky said, describing it as “inevitable” that Russia would be held accountable.
In the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, Ukrainian officials have for days urged civilians to leave ahead of expected extensive fighting. Departure, however, involves deadly dangers; Nearly 60 people were killed last week in a Russian missile attack on the railway station in the town of Kramatorsk, as it was full of people trying to escape.
Finding a way out of the war zone is becoming increasingly difficult. On Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said it had been impossible to open any humanitarian corridors for the day because Russian forces violated local ceasefires and blocked buses sent to evacuate civilians.
Despite growing fears of a Russian push to conquer more eastern territory, there were few outward signs of concern in Dnipro, a central city that is the country’s fourth largest and a waypoint for those fleeing the Donbas. Shops and restaurants were open, with roads filled with cars and traffic jams at major intersections.
Still, a train from the west into the city was mostly empty, with few traveling toward the zone where fighting is expected to occur. Another train, pulling a pair of tanks, was moving along the rails, heading toward the eastern front lines.
Bulos reported from Dnipro, Lee from Los Angeles and King from Warsaw. Times staff writers Patrick J. McDonnell in Kiev, Carolyn Cole in Dnipro and Anumita Kaur in Washington contributed to this report.