A TOP Russian general says the country plans to take full control of Donbass and Southern Ukraine as part of the second phase of the military operation.
Russia will forge a land corridor between Crimea which joined Russia in a 2014 referendum and Donbass, deputy commander of Russia’s central military district Major General Rustam Minnekaev said on Friday.
Russia’s defence ministry said it had struck 58 military targets in Ukraine overnight, including sites where troops, fuel depots and military equipment were concentrated.
The ministry said it had also struck three targets using high-precision missiles in Ukraine, including an S-300 air defence system and a large concentration of Ukrainian troops with their equipment.
They came as US President Joe Biden unveiled a new package of $800 million in military aid for Ukraine.
It includes 72 155mm howitzers, 72 armoured vehicles to tow them, 144,000 rounds of ammunition, and more than 120 “Phoenix Ghost” tactical drones recently developed by the US Air Force, according to the Pentagon.
Speaking at the White House on Thursday, Biden said he will ask Congress next week for supplemental appropriations to fund more military and economic aid for Ukraine.
The new military package will bring the total amount the Biden administration has spent arming the former Soviet republic to $4 billion.
Biden told reporters that Washington has been moving weapons and equipment to Ukraine at ‘record speed’ for helping Ukrainians to repulse Russia’s military advances.
‘We’re in a critical window now of time where that they’re going to set the stage for the next phase of this war. And the United States and our allies and partners are moving as fast as possible to continue to provide Ukraine … the weapons their forces need to defend their nation,’ the US president said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Ukrainian soldiers have travelled to Britain to learn how to use UK-supplied armoured vehicles in the war.
‘A couple of dozen’ troops arrived last week to train on the 120 Mastiff, Wolfhound and Husky armoured vehicles being supplied to Kiev, an official confirmed.
‘I can say that we’re currently training Ukrainians in Poland in the use of the anti-aircraft defences and actually in this country (the UK) in the use of the armoured vehicles,’ he told UK media during a visit to India.
The vehicles are designed to be used in offensive operations alongside tanks and infantry vehicles. Johnson’s spokesman said more were expected to travel in the future.
The UK has taken a leading role in arming and training Ukraine’s forces, especially for anti-tank missiles. Johnson earlier this month became the first G7 leader to visit Kiev since Russia launched its offensive on February 24.
The US Treasury Department has announced that the Biden administration will send Ukraine $500 million to help keep its government services running as the war with Russia completes two months.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that the US House of Representatives would consider the additional aid for Ukraine as soon as next week.
The Pentagon said the new package includes ‘Ghost’ drones that are designed for attacking targets in Ukraine and are destroyed after a single-use.
Washington will provide more than 121 Phoenix Ghost Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems to Ukraine as part of the new arms package, which will help them target Russian troops.
‘What I can tell you is that it was developed for a set of requirements that very closely match what the Ukrainians need right now in Donbass,’ Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
Kirby added that the drone has been ‘rapidly developed’ to send to Ukraine.
Later, Kirby seemingly contradicted the comments and said the drone was already in development before Russia launched the military offensive in Ukraine two months ago.
‘It was developed before the military operation … but it was developed for a set of requirements that very closely match what the Ukrainians need right now in Donbass.’
One of the reasons behind the Ukraine war not ending anytime soon is the US pumping arms into the country.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday claimed victory in the biggest battle of the Ukraine war, declaring the port city of Mariupol ‘liberated’, but Kiev and Washington insisted that the Ukrainian forces still held ground in the city.
President Putin said Russian troops have ‘liberated’ Mariupol and will impose a tight blockade on the holed-up Ukrainian soldiers in the city.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday that ‘the devastated city of Mariupol ‘continues to resist’ despite Russian claims to have captured it.’
He also welcomed fresh US aid to help confront Moscow’s eastern offensive.
Moscow earlier said it has ‘liberated’ the city, with just a few thousand Ukrainian soldiers left in the Azovstal plant complex, where thousands more civilians are believed to have taken refuge.
But Zelensky insisted that the battle for the city was still underway.
‘In the south and east of our country, the occupiers continue to do everything to have a reason to talk about at least some victories,’ he said in a video address.
Ukrainian officials have appealed for an immediate humanitarian corridor to allow civilians and wounded fighters to leave the sprawling Azovstal steel plant.
‘They have almost no food, water, essential medicine,’ Ukraine’s foreign ministry claimed.
Ukrainian officials also said more than 1,000 civilians bodies have been retrieved from areas around the capital and that they are working with French investigators to document Russia’s alleged war crimes.
‘It’s all being investigated,’ Oleksandr Pavliuk, head of the Kiev regional military administration, told reporters on Thursday. ‘There is no final number of civilians killed.’
World Bank President David Malpass said physical damage to Ukraine’s buildings and infrastructure has reached roughly $60 billion and will rise further as the war continues.
‘Of course, the war is still ongoing, so those costs are rising,’ Malpass said.
At a news conference, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Russia should shoulder some of Ukraine’s rebuilding costs.
Zelensky said on Thursday that Ukraine needs $7 billion per month for its economic recovery.
Zelensky asked the western countries to impose sanctions and freeze Russian assets to use that money to help rebuild Ukraine after the war and to pay for losses suffered by other countries.
- During his meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal in Washington on Thursday, Biden announced plans to ban Russian-affiliated ships from docking at US ports.
A senior Biden administration official was quoted as saying that the move aims to further isolate Russia.
Moscow soon announced its new counter-measures, sanctioning more than two dozen US citizens, including Vice President Kamala Harris, by denying them entry to the country.
The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement that the move was in response to ‘ever-expanding anti-Russian sanctions’ by the Biden administration targeting Russian officials and their families, as well as scientists, businessmen, and cultural figures.
The US officials on the list of 29 citizens banned from travelling to Russia include White House chief of staff Ronald Klain, Deputy defence Secretary Kathleen Holland Hicks, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby, State Department spokesperson, Ned Price and Doug Emhoff, Kamla Harris’ husband.