West promises Ukraine new weapons as Russia warns of wider conflict
For the second day in a row, explosions rocked the separatist region of Trans-Dniester in neighbouring Moldova, knocking out two powerful radio antennas close to the Ukrainian border and further heightening fears of a broader conflict erupting across Europe. No one claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Ukraine all but blamed Russia.
Russian missile fire also knocked out a strategic railway bridge along a route that links southern Ukraine’s Odesa port region to neighbouring Romania, a NATO member, Ukrainian authorities said.
Southern Ukraine and Moldova have been on edge since a senior Russian military officer said last week that the Kremlin’s goal is to secure not just eastern Ukraine but the entire south, so as to open the way to Trans-Dniester.
Two months into the devastating war, Western arms have helped Ukraine stall Russia’s invasion, but the country’s leaders have said they need more support fast.
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said that more help is on the way as he convened a meeting of officials from around 40 countries at the US air base at Ramstein, Germany, to pledge more weapons.
The group will meet monthly to co-ordinate its efforts.
“This gathering reflects the galvanised world,” Mr Austin said in his opening remarks.
He added that he wanted officials to leave the meeting “with a common and transparent understanding of Ukraine’s near-term security requirements because we’re going to keep moving heaven and earth so that we can meet them”.
With the potentially pivotal battle for the east underway, the US and its NATO allies are scrambling to deliver artillery and other heavy weaponry in time to make a difference.
German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht said her government will supply Gepard self-propelled armoured anti-aircraft guns to Ukraine. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has faced mounting pressure to send heavy weapons such as tanks and other armoured vehicles.
Mr Austin noted that more than 30 allies and partners have joined the US in sending military aid to Ukraine and that more than US$5 billion worth of equipment has been committed.
The US defence secretary said the war has weakened Russia’s military, adding, “We would like to make sure, again, that they don’t have the same type of capability to bully their neighbours that we saw at the outset of this conflict.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov cautioned that if the Western flow of weapons continues, the talks aimed at ending the fighting will not produce any results.
A day earlier, Mr Lavrov accused NATO of “pouring oil on the fire” with its support for Ukraine. He also warned against provoking World War III and said the threat of a nuclear conflict “should not be underestimated”.
“A nuclear war cannot be won and it shouldn’t be fought,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby responded in an interview with CNN.
“That kind of rhetoric is clearly not called for in the current scenario”
Diplomatic efforts to end the fighting also continued. UN Secretary-General António Guterres met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and criticised Russia’s military action in Ukraine as a flagrant violation of its neighbour’s territorial integrity.
Mr Guterres urged Russia to allow the evacuation of civilians trapped in the steel plant in Mariupol. Putin said that Ukrainian troops were using civilians in the plant as shields and not allowing them to leave.
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