Live updates: Russia’s war in Ukraine
The US expects more announcements of weapons and equipment packages to Ukraine during a key meeting of nearly 50 countries known as the Ukraine Contact Group on Wednesday, according to a senior US defense official.
Ukrainian officials have warned that Russia is gaining ground in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, specifically in the city of Severodonestk, which has seen some of the heaviest fighting recently. Without an influx of more weapons, some Ukrainian officials have said it will be increasingly difficult to halt Russia’s incremental progress or reclaim occupied ground in the region.
“We hear what they’re saying, we absolutely hear what they’re saying,” said the senior defense official, who spoke of the “urgency” of the group’s meeting Thursday in Brussels.
The official would not detail what countries would be announcing new security packages or what those shipments would include but noted that the US works “very closely” with other countries to figure out what Ukraine’s armed forces need and then find those systems to send over.
The official would also not say whether the US would have a new package to announce, but said US President Biden’s administration is already working on the next package.
“It’s a constant drumbeat because it’s a constant battle” with “constantly evolving urgent requirements,” the official told a group of reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
The Biden administration announced the last weapons package on June 1st, including High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HiMARS), a system capable of launching a barrage of rockets and missiles that Ukraine had urgently requested for weeks. The $700 million package was the first time the administration had drawn from the new $40 billion aid package for Ukraine, which received bipartisan support in Congress.
A small group of Ukrainian soldiers began training on HiMARS almost immediately after the weapons package was announced. But the system, which requires three weeks of training, has not yet entered the fight. The senior defense official would only say that it will enter Ukraine “soon.”
The US has taken on “some risk” to its own military readiness in sending weapons and equipment to Ukraine, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said earlier this month, but it was “not an unacceptable level of risk at all.”
The senior defense official said the US and it allies had a significant amount of equipment still available to send to Ukraine.
“We have far from exhausted the resource and the multi-country security assistance for this battle on Ukrainian territory,” the official said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed in his evening speech on Monday that Ukraine would liberate all of the territories occupied by Russia, even the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed shortly after its takeover in 2014. But that could only happen, he said, with more weapons for Ukraine.
“It only takes enough weapons to make it happen. The partners have it. In sufficient quantities. And we work every day for the political will to give us these weapons to appear,” Zelensky said.
Ukrainian officials have said 100 to 200 soldiers a day are dying in the fighting, a number that raises some doubts about the ability of the Ukrainian armed forces to sustain such losses. The US official didn’t doubt the casualty figures.
“The numbers are not out of line with what you would expect for this kind of artillery battle,” the official said. “It’s not surprising that the numbers the Ukrainians are reporting are that serious.”
But the official said the US has not seen a flagging of Ukrainian morale to remain in the fight, even as the conflict becomes a grinding, brutal battle of artillery that may favor the firepower and manpower of Russia’s military. The official sounded a more optimistic note about the state of the fight, even as Russia appears to be gaining momentum in the Donbas region.
Problems of morale, poor command, and supply issues have plagued the Russian military since the beginning of the invasion. Russia was able to paper over some of those issues when the focus shifted to eastern Ukraine, since the battlefield bordered Russia, making it much easier to send supplies the short distance to units on the front line.
A lot of Russia’s high-end equipment has already been destroyed, the official said, forcing them to rely on older models. At the same time, Russia’s stock of precision munitions are dwindling, leading to the use of more artillery, which has had devastating consequences with its lack of precision. Sanctions and export restrictions have also made it higher to resupply their high end capabilities, the official said.
Despite all the challenges the Russians have faced — both self-made and a result of Ukraine’s counter-attacks — Russia still retains its biggest advantage, the sheer size of its military. But that doesn’t mean Russia is guaranteed victory, even if Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown no indication that he is considering scaling back his goals.
“It’s not so clear where the advantages and disadvantages fall. There are strains on both sides,” the official said.