US preparing new $1.1bn arms package for Ukraine as referendum held in east

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US military forces fire a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) rocket during the annual Philippines-US live fire amphibious landing exercise (PHIBLEX) at Crow Valley in Capas, Tarlac province, north of Manila, Philippines. (Via Reuters)

The United States is preparing a new $1.1 billion arms package for Ukraine as several eastern Ukrainian regions have voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to join Russia.

The package, which includes HIMARS launcher systems and counter drone and radar systems, will be the latest installment in US lethal aid and weaponry for Ukraine amid its fights with Russia.

After a five-day referendum, several Ukrainian regions voted overwhelmingly in favor of joining Russia.

The voting was held in Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as well as the southern region of Kherson, and the southeastern region of Zaporizhzhia.

The regional officials there said huge majorities have voted in favor of integration into Russia, Reuters reported.

Kiev and its Western allies described the votes as "sham", with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky saying he would rule out negotiation with Russia after the referendum.

US President Joe Biden also condemned the referendums and vowed the United States would never recognize the results.

According to the officials, 99.23 of the voters in Donetsk, 98.42 percent in Luhansk, 87.05 percent in Kherson, and around 93 percent of residents in Zaporizhzhia approved of their regions' integration into Russia.

The vote harked back to a similar referendum held in 2014, during which Ukraine's Crimea peninsula voted to join Russia.

Besides the new $1.1 billion American arms package, the United States has also approved sending Ukraine a total of eight National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS) so far.

The arms are part of a larger, more than $15 billion US "security assistance" to Ukraine since Russia began its military operation on Feb. 24.

Western arms have been vital to Ukraine as it recaptured swathes of northeast Ukraine in what it called “counter-offensive” earlier this month.

Fighting raged in various parts of Ukraine on Tuesday.

As well as the short- and medium-range missile systems, the West has equipped Ukraine with long-range weapons to target the Russian territory.

In what appeared to be an appeal for further unbridled American military support for the Ukrainian military, the Ukrainian president alleged, "...believe me, it (the American military equipment) is not even nearly enough to cover the civilian infrastructure, schools, hospitals, universities, homes of Ukrainians."

Russia has denied targeting any civilian infrastructures during the military campaign.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last week that the US and its European allies were trying to prolong fighting in Ukraine in order to weaken Russia.

The countries in question were "pumping Ukraine full of weapons, [and] training their soldiers,” he told the United Nations Security Council.

They are doing so to “drag out the fighting as long as possible in spite of the victims in order to wear down and weaken Russia," Lavrov added.

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