West must stay focused on Ukraine during ‘pivotal’ moment, says Pentagon chief

BRUSSELS, June 15 (Reuters) – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was at a “pivotal” moment and the United States and its allies could not lose sight of the three-month-long conflict, the United States said on Wednesday. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin as Western nations pledged more weapons in Kyiv.

Austin was speaking at a meeting of dozens of defense ministers on the sidelines of a NATO ministerial meeting. This is the third time the group of nearly 50 countries have met to discuss and coordinate aid to Ukraine. The previous in-person meeting took place at Ramstein Air Base in Germany in April.

Ukraine needs 1,000 howitzers, 500 tanks and 1,000 drones among other heavy weapons, presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Monday. Western countries have promised NATO-compliant weapons, including advanced US rockets.

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But deploying them takes time, and Ukraine will need continued Western support to transition to new supplies and systems as stocks of Soviet-era weapons and ammunition dwindle. Read more

“We can’t afford to let go and we can’t run out of steam. The stakes are too high,” Austin said at the start of the meeting in Brussels. “Ukraine is facing a pivotal moment on the battlefield…Russia is using its long-range fire to try to overwhelm Ukrainian positions.”

The White House on Wednesday announced about $1 billion worth of new weapons for Ukraine, including coastal defense systems and ammunition for advanced artillery and rocket systems.

Germany will supply three MARS II multiple rocket launchers to Ukraine, Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said, adding that training for Ukrainian troops would begin in the coming weeks.

Before the meeting began, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the allies would continue to supply Ukraine with heavy weapons and long-range systems and that he expected they agree to a new assistance package for Kyiv at a NATO summit later this month.

“Sometimes these efforts take time. This is exactly why it is important to have a meeting like the one we are having today… to meet with Ukrainian representatives to identify the challenges and issues that ‘They’d like to lift with us when,’ Stoltenberg said.

‘GRINDING’ OPERATION

The Battle of Sievierodonetsk – a city of just over 100,000 before the war – is now the biggest battle in Ukraine, as the conflict has devolved into a punitive war of attrition.

US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley told reporters that about three-quarters of Sievierodonetsk was under Russian control.

It was not inevitable that Russia would take control of the eastern region of Donbass, but it was clear that the numbers favored Russia in terms of artillery, even though Moscow had lost 20% to 30% of its armored force, Milley said at a press conference after the Encounter.

The United States has committed approximately $5.6 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the February 24 Russian invasion, including artillery systems such as howitzers and longer-range weapons such as the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS).

“Russia has not given up the fight, despite its fairly anemic progress… What we have is this overwhelming, slow, incremental Russian operation,” a senior US defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“So the question is what do the Ukrainians need to continue the success they have already seen in slowing down and thwarting this Russian objective and that will be a top priority for defense ministers,” the official said.

Russia launched what it calls a ‘special operation’ in Ukraine in February, saying it was needed to rid the country of dangerous nationalists and degrade Ukraine’s military capabilities – goals the West has denounced as a baseless excuse.

The Biden administration said it received assurances from Kyiv that these longer-range weapons would not be used to attack Russian territory, fearing an escalation of the conflict.

Kyiv said it was losing 100 to 200 troops every day, with hundreds more injured. In an overnight address, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy described the battle for the industrial heartland of Donbass – partly occupied by Moscow proxies since 2014 – as one of the most brutal in European history.

Milley said those numbers were within the range of the United States’ estimate of Ukrainian casualties, but the losses could be long-lasting since invading Russia posed an existential threat.

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Reporting by Idrees Ali, Sabine Siebold and Robin Emmott in Brussels; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Chizu Nomiyama and Alex Richardson

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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