The Pentagon says it expects to send new weapons systems to help the Ukrainian military in its fight to stop the steady advance of Russian forces in the eastern part of the country.
A senior U.S. defense official said that new weapons systems like long-range missiles and artillery cannons are urgently needed in Ukraine, in a government release. The news comes as fears grow that Russia may soon win the battle for Donbas in the east of Ukraine where fighting is focused, which could signal the Kremlin still intends to conquer the entire country and dismantle Ukrainian statehood.
"The focus is first and foremost on Ukraine's urgent requirements to continue the battle, that it's fighting against Russia right now," said the official on the eve of a meeting in Belgium of 50 national heads of defense departments, led by U.S. Secretary of Defense Loyd Austin III. “It is an artillery battle now.”
The Ukraine Defense Contact Group, which first convened in April while the war looked much different than the trench and artillery duels happening now in Donbas, will determine what coordinated weapons transfers Ukrainian forces need. Earlier weapons handed over to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government included shoulder-fired hardware like Stinger anti-aircraft systems and anti-tank Javelin rockets—used to devastating effect by the much smaller Ukrainian resistance to halt and repel Russian forces.
But in the current state of the war, Russian military brass has seemingly learned from its mistakes and changed tactics. Instead of scattered deployments of troops and tanks across the country, Kremlin forces are using long-range artillery to blast Ukrainian towns like Severodonetsk from a distance, while incrementally deploying ground forces that consume ground by the day as supplies and logistics freely flow from western Russia into Russian-controlled Donbas.
To that point, the U.S. defense official said the new weapons shipments will need to focus on “artillery, armor, [unmanned aerial vehicles] and sustainment," with an eye to urgently ship multiple long-range rocket systems (MLRS). Those systems will allow Ukrainian forces, who currently don’t possess enough of the types of arms required to hit far-away Russian artillery, to return fire “from further back.” In late May, the Pentagon confirmed that the U.S. would provide Ukraine with MLRS capabilities as long as it promised not to fire them into Russian territory.
On Monday, one of Zelenskyy’s chief advisers tweeted a “straightforward” list of all the military gear the country needs to win the war against Russia, which included 1,000 new artillery cannons (and much needed ammunition) in addition to 300 MLRS and other heavy arms. Ukraine has also admitted that the war is costing the country dearly in manpower as 150-200 soldiers are dying daily as the country claims it is outgunned by Russian artillery 20-to-one.
At a national security conference in Washington Tuesday, the U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy Colin Kahl said that while those numbers are grim, Russian forces are also dying at a similar rate.
“The Ukrainians remain stalwart defenders,” said Kahl. “There are significant casualties, but that is true on both sides.”
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