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US announces new $600m Ukraine arms package, EU reaffirms support for Kiev

Military aid, delivered as part of the United States' security assistance to Ukraine, is unloaded from a plane at the Boryspil International Airport outside Kiev, Ukraine, on February 13, 2022. (Photo by Reuters)

The Biden administration has approved a new $600 million weapons package for Ukraine despite warnings that its military support to Kiev only fuels the flames of war in the former Soviet republic.

According to a White House memo sent to the US State Department on Thursday, the package will include High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), night vision goggles, claymore mines, mine clearing equipment, 105mm artillery rounds, and 155mm precision-guided artillery rounds.

It said Biden authorized the package using his Presidential Drawdown Authority, which allows the president to accredit the transfer of excess weapons from US stocks.

“To meet Ukraine’s evolving battlefield requirements, the United States will continue to work with its Allies and partners to provide Ukraine with key capabilities," the Pentagon said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the military assistance being provided to Ukraine was "carefully calibrated to make the most difference on the battlefield and strengthen Ukraine‘s hand at the negotiating table when the time is right".

The incumbent US administration’s military aid to Kiev has already reached around $15.8 billion since Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a “special military operation” in Ukraine in late February.

The military operation followed Kiev’s failure to implement the terms of the 2014 Minsk agreements and Moscow’s recognition of the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

At the time, Putin said one of the goals of what he called a “special military operation” was to “de-Nazify” Ukraine.

In the last two months, the Pentagon has announced two military packages for Kiev worth $550 million and $1 billion respectively. They include HIMARS ammunition, artillery ammunition, Javelin missiles, and other anti-armor weapons.

Most of the funding for these weapons comes from money that US Congress has set aside to arm Kiev.

US Congress in March approved a $13.6 billion military package for Ukraine. In May, lawmakers tripled that funding with another $40 billion package. The Biden administration had initially asked for a lower amount – $33 billion.

Moscow has been fiercely critical of weapons supplies to Kiev by Washington and its western allies, warning that it will only prolong the conflict and increase the risk of a direct confrontation between the NATO military alliance and Russia.

EU backs Ukraine for ‘as long as it takes’

During her visit to Kiev on Thursday, European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen reaffirmed the bloc’s solidarity with Ukrainian people and said Kiev would have Europe's support for "as long as it takes.”

"We will never be able to match the sacrifice that the Ukrainians are making," Von der Leyen told reporters during a joint press conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

"But what we can tell you is that you'll have your European friends by your side as long as it takes.”

Asked about further EU help to bolster the Ukrainian military, Von der Leyen said it was necessary that Ukraine "gets all the military capability it needs to defend itself," without giving further details.

The EU chief underlined that standing with Ukraine "comes at a high cost, but our freedom, the international peace order, and democracy is priceless."

Russia on Thursday warned that if the United States and its allies supplied Ukraine with longer-range missiles, Washington would cross a “red line," and become “a party to the conflict."

Germany vows more weapons for Ukraine

Christine Lambrecht, Germany's defense minister, pledged more weapons for Ukraine on Thursday, saying Berlin would provide armored vehicles and rocket launch systems to Kiev for its counter-offensive against Russia.

Lambrecht said Germany would supply two Mars II multiple-rocket launch systems, 200 missiles and 50 armored "Dingo" troop carriers.

The German defense minister further said that Soviet-made BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles would also "very quickly" head to Ukraine from Greece, as a deal with Germany to replenish Athens' stocks with the more modern Marder armored vehicles was close.

On Thursday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had defended his country's support for Ukraine.

"We are helping... because their fight is a fight that we are supporting," he said in a speech, listing ways that Berlin had aided Ukraine, from supplying armaments to training troops.

"We have delivered more and more weapons. Weapons deliveries from us -- but also from our allies -- have contributed to things turning out differently to how the Russian president planned," Scholz added.

Germany is the fourth largest donor to Ukraine, behind the US, the UK, and Poland.

Ukraine claims discovery of mass grave

In a separate development on Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed the discovery of a mass grave in the recently recaptured town of Izyum, likening it to deaths seen in the cities of Bucha and Mariupol.

"We want the world to know what the Russian occupation has caused," Zelensky said, without giving details on the number of bodies found or their cause of death.

Andriy Yermak, Ukraine’s presidential chief of staff, accused Russia of murder in a tweet about the mass grave, posting a photo of a forested area dotted with crudely made wooden crosses.

"All bodies will be exhumed and sent for forensic examination," he said. "Expect more information tomorrow."

Sergei Botvinov, a regional police official, told Sky News that a burial site with around 440 graves had been discovered in Izyum, with some of the dead shot and others killed in shelling.

"Also we have information that a lot of bodies have not been identified yet. So the reasons of death will be established during the investigations," he added.

Ukrainian forces have over the past days managed to repulse Russian attacks in multiple directions and liberated vast swathes of their country’s territory.

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