Russian troops fought to take complete control of the eastern industrial city of Sievierodonetsk on Wednesday as the United States said it will provide Ukraine with advanced rockets to help it force Moscow to negotiate an end to the war.
President Joe Biden said the United States would provide Ukraine with more advanced rocket systems and munitions so it can “more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield”.
“We have moved quickly to send Ukraine a significant amount of weaponry and ammunition so it can fight on the battlefield and be in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table,” Biden wrote in an opinion piece in the New York Times.
A senior Biden administration official said weaponry provided would include the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), which Ukraine’s armed forces chief said a month ago was “crucial” to counter Russian missile attacks.
Addressing concerns that such weapons could draw the United States into a direct conflict with Russia, senior administration officials said Ukraine gave assurances the missiles would not be used to strike inside Russia.
“These systems will be used by the Ukrainians to repel Russian advances on Ukrainian territory, but they will not be used on targets in Russian territory,” the U.S. official told reporters.
Shortly after the U.S. decision was announced, the Russian defence ministry said Russia’s nuclear forces were holding drills in the Ivanovo province, northeast of Moscow, the Interfax news agency reported.
Some 1,000 servicemen were exercising in intense manoeuvres using more than 100 vehicles including Yars intercontinental ballistic missile launchers, it cited the ministry as saying.
There was no mention of the U.S. decision to supply new weapons in the Interfax report.
The latest U.S. pledge of weapons for Ukraine – on top of billions of dollars worth of equipment already provided including anti-aircraft missiles and drones – came as Russia pressed its assault to seize the eastern Donbas region, having abandoned its earlier thrust toward Kyiv from the north.
Russian troops have now taken control of most of the eastern industrial city of Sievierodonetsk in Luhansk, one of two provinces in the Donbas, regional Governor Serhiy Gaidai on Tuesday.
Nearly all critical infrastructure in Sievierodonetsk had been destroyed and 60% of residential property damaged beyond repair, he said. Russian shelling had made it impossible to deliver aid or evacuate people.
A Russian victory in Sievierodonetsk and its twin city of Lysychansk across the Siverskyi Donets river would bring full control of Luhansk, one of two eastern provinces Moscow claims on behalf of separatists.
A pro-Moscow separatist leader said Russian proxies had advanced slower than expected to “maintain the city’s infrastructure” and exercise caution around its chemical factories.
“We can say already that a third of Sievierodonetsk is already under our control,” Russia’s TASS state news agency quoted Leonid Pasechnik, the leader of the pro-Moscow Luhansk People’s Republic, as saying.
Gaidai warned Sievierodonetsk residents not to leave bomb shelters due to what he said was a Russian air strike on a nitric acid tank.
The Luhansk People’s Republic’s police force said Ukraine’s forces had damaged it. Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists traded accusations over a similar incident in April.
Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council aid agency which had long operated out of Sievierodonetsk, said he was “horrified” by its destruction.
Up to 12,000 civilians remain caught in crossfire, without sufficient access to water, food, medicine or electricity, Egeland said.
“The near-constant bombardment is forcing civilians to seek refuge in bomb shelters and basements, with only few precious opportunities for those trying to escape,” he said.
Ukraine says weapons sent by the United States and other countries since the beginning of the invasion have helped fend off Russian gains.
The high mobility artillery rocket systems are part of a $700 million weapons package expected to be unveiled by the United States on Wednesday.
The package includes ammunition, counter fire radars, a number of air surveillance radars, additional Javelin anti-tank missiles, as well as anti-armour weapons, officials said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called for more weapons while lambasting the European Union, which agreed on Monday to cut imports of Russian oil, for not sanctioning energy from Russia sooner.
The EU said it would ban imports of Russian oil by sea. Officials said that would halt two-thirds of Russia’s oil exports to Europe at first, and 90% by the end of this year.
Responding to the EU oil embargo, Russia widened its gas cuts to Europe, pushing up prices and ratcheted up its economic battle with Brussels.
Putin launched his “special operation” in February to disarm and “denazify” Ukraine. Ukraine and its Western allies call this a baseless pretext for a war to seize territory.
Ukraine accuses Russia of war crimes on a huge scale, flattening cities and killing and raping civilians. Russia denies the accusations.
Six Pakistan Army officers killed in Balochistan helicopter crash
Six Pakistan Army officials, including two majors, have been killed in a helicopter crash in Balochistan.
The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said on Monday the helicopter crashed during a mission near Khost in Harnai, Balochistan.
“All six personnel on board, including two pilots, have embraced shahadat,” the military’s media affairs wing said.
The ISPR has released details about the cause of the crash which comes just over a month after a similar incident occurred in Balochistan.
On August 1, a Pakistan Army helicopter with six people on board, including Commander 12 Corps Lieutenant General Sarfraz Ali, lost contact with the air traffic control in Balochistan’s Lasbela district.
A day later, the wreckage of the helicopter was found near Musa Goth. All personnel on board had been killed.
North Korea fires ballistic missile ahead of US VP Harris visit
North Korea fired a ballistic missile towards the sea off its east coast on Sunday, ahead of planned military drills by South Korean and U.S. forces involving an aircraft carrier and a visit to the region by US Vice President Kamala Harris, Reuters reported.
South Korea’s military said it was a single, short-range ballistic missile fired from near the Taechon area of North Pyongyan Province just before 7 a.m. local time and flew about 600 km (373 miles) at an altitude of 60 km and a speed of Mach 5.
“North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile is an act of grave provocation that threatens the peace and security of the Korean peninsula and international community,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
According to Reuters after the launch, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Kim Seung-kyum and the US Forces Korea Commander Paul LaCamera discussed the situation and reaffirmed their readiness to respond to any threat or provocation from North Korea, it added.
South Korea’s National Security Council held an emergency meeting to discuss response measures and condemned the launch as an apparent violation of the U.N. Security Council Resolutions and an unjustifiable act of provocation.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who arrived in Seoul late on Saturday from a trip to Britain, the United States and Canada, was briefed on the launch, the presidential office said.
Japan’s Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada said Japan estimated the missile reached maximum altitude at 50 km and may have flown on an irregular trajectory. Hamada said it fell outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone and there were no reports of problems with shipping or air traffic.
Many of the short-range missiles tested by North Korea in recent years have been designed to evade missile defences by manoeuvring during flight and flying on a lower, “depressed” trajectory, experts have said.
“If you include launches of cruise missiles this is the nineteenth launch, which is an unprecedented pace,” Hamada said.
“North Korea’s action represents a threat to the peace and security of our country, the region and the international community and to do this as the Ukraine invasion unfolds is unforgivable,” he said, adding that Japan had delivered a protest through North Korea’s embassy in Beijing.
The US Indo-pacific Command said it was aware of the launch and consulting closely with allies, in a statement released after the launch, while reaffirming US commitment to the defence of South Korea and Japan, read the report.
“While we have assessed that this event does not pose an immediate threat to US personnel or territory, or to our allies, the missile launch highlights the destabilising impact of the DPRK’s unlawful Weapons of Mass Destruction and ballistic missile programs.”
US aircraft carrier arrives in South Korea as warning to North Korea
A US aircraft carrier arrived in South Korea on Friday for the first time in about four years, due to join South Korean ships in a military show of force aimed at sending North Korea a message, Reuters quoting officials said.
USS Ronald Reagan and ships from its accompanying strike force docked at a naval base in the southern port city of Busan.
According to Reuters its arrival marks the most significant deployment yet under a new push to have more US nuclear-capable “strategic assets” operate in the area to deter North Korea.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has pushed for more joint exercises and other displays of military power as a warning to North Korea, which earlier this year conducted a record number of missile tests after talks failed to persuade it to end its nuclear weapons and missile development.
Observers say Pyongyang also appears to be preparing to resume nuclear testing for the first time since 2017, read the report.
North Korea has denounced previous US military deployments and joint drills as rehearsals for war and proof of hostile policies by Washington and Seoul.
The visit is the first to South Korea by an American aircraft carrier since 2018. That year, the allies scaled back many of their joint military activities amid diplomatic efforts to engage with North Korea, but those talks have since stalled and Pyongyang this month unveiled an updated law codifying its right to conduct first-use nuclear strikes if necessary to protect itself.
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