Turning point in the war: Call to step up arms deliveries to Ukraine
“Ukraine is facing a pivotal moment on the battlefield”, declared the American Secretary of Defense, during a meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels of the countries of the “contact group” created by the United States to help Ukraine. “We must therefore intensify our common commitment” and “redouble our efforts so that she can defend herself”, he added.
Ukraine is getting impatient
Nearly 50 Defense Ministers – including Ukrainian Minister Oleksiï Reznikov – were to take part in this meeting, on the sidelines of a NATO ministerial meeting. A meeting eagerly awaited by kyiv, which has been calling for heavy weapons in quantity for weeks to repel Russian forces in the Donbass basin.
“Brussels, we are waiting for a decision”, tweeted Mykhaïlo Podoliak, adviser to the Ukrainian presidency, again on Wednesday morning. “The Russia/Ukraine artillery ratio is around 10 to 1 in some areas, I get daily messages from our fighters saying ‘We hold on, just let us know when the guns are coming’,” he said. added.
Since their abortive offensive on kyiv in March, Russian and pro-Russian separatist forces, which have partially controlled this industrial region since 2014, have set themselves the goal of taking full control.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg assured before the meeting that Alliance members would provide more modern heavy weapons to Ukraine, but warned that this “takes time”.
“These are artillery, long-range systems, anti-aircraft systems to NATO standards, which requires training, upkeep, maintenance,” insisted Jens Stoltenberg.
On the menu: rocket launchers and self-propelled guns
Among the weapons Ukraine is asking for are multiple rocket launcher systems, which Washington and London have promised to provide. British Defense Minister Ben Wallace said Wednesday from Oslo that deliveries were “imminent”.
The Ukrainians are also calling for self-propelled guns, such as the French Caesar self-propelled guns. France has delivered six copies to kyiv in recent weeks, and AFP on Wednesday saw Ukrainian soldiers using Caesars to fire on Russian targets in the Donbass.
“Ukraine must obtain everything necessary to achieve victory,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky insisted in a teleconference with Czech MPs.
Shipments destroyed by Russia
He reiterated that the invasion of Ukraine was only a first step for Moscow, which intends to take back its former Soviet-era satellites. Russia is “a tyrant who […] wants everything, will never stop”, said the Ukrainian president.
Moscow tries to intercept Western deliveries, and regularly announces that it has destroyed weapons supplied by NATO. On Wednesday, the Russian army again claimed to have destroyed the day before a warehouse of Western weapons, in particular M777 155 mm howitzers, near Lviv, in western Ukraine.
Faced with this Western call to intensify military aid to Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin obtained a mark of support from his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Wednesday.
“China is willing to pursue mutual support with Russia on issues of sovereignty, security, as well as other issues of fundamental interests and major concerns,” Xi Jinping was quoted as saying by the news agency. New China, which did not link these comments to any specific example such as Ukraine or Taiwan.
The Kremlin said for its part that the two leaders agreed to expand cooperation in the energy, financial, industrial, transport and other fields, taking into account the global economic situation which has become complicated due to the illegitimate sanctions of the West”.
They also discussed the “development of military and military-technical relations”, according to the Russian presidency, describing the exchange as “warm and friendly”.
Falling gas and rising prices
Faced with Western sanctions, the Russian giant Gazprom announced a further drop of a third of its gas deliveries to Europe via the Nord Stream gas pipeline, the day after an initial drastic reduction.
“This is clearly a strategy to disrupt and drive up prices,” said Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck in a statement.
These statements come against the backdrop of the Russian assault on the city of Severodonetsk and its neighbor Lyssytchansk, two key cities in the Donbass, and on other localities in the region, according to kyiv.
“We have to hold on,” President Zelensky said on Tuesday evening, while this battle has been going on for weeks. “It is vital to stay in the Donbass […]the defense of the region is essential to give an indication of who will dominate in the coming weeks,” he added in his daily video message.
The Ukrainian authorities have admitted in recent days that their troops have been driven out of the city center of Severodonetsk, and only have “complicated communication channels” with them after the destruction of all the bridges to Lysychansk.
The Ukrainian forces are notably entrenched in the Azot chemical plant, emblematic of this city of 100,000 inhabitants, with more than 500 civilians inside, according to the mayor of Severodonetsk Oleksandre Striouk.
The evacuation of civilians
Moscow proposed on Tuesday a “humanitarian corridor” that would allow the evacuation of these civilians to territories controlled by the Russians, but kyiv did not confirm it. A pro-Russian separatist official on Wednesday morning accused the Ukrainians of having prevented its establishment.
A situation reminiscent of that of the huge Azovstal steelworks, which for weeks was the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov to the south-east, with hundreds of civilians taking refuge with them and rare coordinated evacuation operations.
The bombings persist
kyiv has so far denied any encirclement of its forces in Severodonetsk, largely destroyed and emptied of its inhabitants, while pro-Russian separatist forces have said that they would have to “surrender or die”.
According to an AFP journalist on the spot, the roads linking Lysytchansk to Kramatorsk, another key city in Donbass under Ukrainian control, are used to transport weapons, in particular Grad multiple rocket launchers and artillery guns.
“The Russians are bombing the city center all the time,” a local policeman told AFP. “It’s 24 hours a day, ‘non stop’,” adds his colleague.
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