West pledges more arms for Ukraine, as Russia and China renew ties

By Max DELANY with Anna MALPAS in the Donbas

Jun. 15, 2022

"This system is primarily very manoeuvrable and mobile," the officer from the 55th brigade said. "In modern warfare, this is a crucial factor.

West pledges more arms for Ukraine, as Russia and China renew ties

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin urged European allies to step up arms shipments to Ukraine on Wednesday, as Russia and China renewed their mutual support in the face of Western sanctions. In eastern Ukraine, troops fired a volley of shells from French-supplied Caesar howitzers towards Russian positions, even as Western ministers met at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Britain announced that its delivery of the advanced Multiple Launch Rocket System to Ukraine was now "imminent" -- but still Kyiv pleaded that it is outgunned on the frontline and in need of quicker support.

"We can't afford to let up and we can't lose steam. The stakes are too high. Ukraine is facing a pivotal moment on the battlefield," Austin told a meeting of allies in Brussels.
"We must intensify our shared commitment to Ukraine's self-defence, and we must push ourselves even harder to ensure that Ukraine can defend itself, its citizens and its territory."

Austin said that Moscow's attack on its pro-Western neighbour "isn't just a danger to Ukraine -- it's a menace to European security". "So we must continue to rise to meet this challenge," he said, sitting next to Ukraine's defence minister Oleksiy Reznikov. While the western allies debate how best to help Ukraine, China's President Xi Jinping assured his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin of Beijing's support for Moscow.

China has refused to condemn Moscow's invasion of Ukraine and has been accused of providing diplomatic cover for Russia by criticising Western sanctions and arms sales to Kyiv. State media reported that China is "willing to continue to offer mutual support (to Russia) on issues concerning core interests and major concerns such as sovereignty and security". And the Kremlin said that, in a call, Xi and Putin had agreed to ramp up economic cooperation in the face of "unlawful" Western sanctions.

Earlier, Ukraine had delivered a message to the meeting on behalf of its embattled troops struggling to hold back a Russian offensive. "Brussels, we are waiting for a decision," Mykhaylo Podolyak, senior aide to President Volodymyr Zelensky said, warning that Ukraine's artillery is outgunned by 10 to one. "Daily, I receive a message from the defenders: 'We are holding on, just say: when to expect the weapons?'" he said. The industrial city of Severodonetsk is under intense bombardment as Russia focuses its offensive on the Donbas region in an effort to secure a swathe of eastern and southern Ukraine.

- 'Critical situation' -

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, hosting the meeting of around 50 allies and partners, warned it would take time to get the latest hardware into service with trained Ukrainian troops. "Ukraine is really in a very critical situation and therefore, it's an urgent need to step up," Stoltenberg told journalists ahead of a gathering of NATO ministers.

The West has poured arms into Ukraine, but Kyiv complains it has only received a tenth of what it needs and is clamouring for heavier weaponry. Stoltenberg said the allies had moved from sending older equipment to delivering "more long-range, more advanced air defence systems, more advanced artillery, more heavy weapons". But he added "there will also be some time needed to just make the Ukrainians ready to use and operate these systems". He said NATO members, such as the Netherlands, plan to offer training to Ukrainian forces to get them up to speed on the new heavy guns going in.

Stoltenberg said alliance leaders should agree a "comprehensive assistance package" for Ukraine at a summit in Madrid later this month. About 500 civilians are taking shelter in Severodonetsk's Azot chemical plant, according to the head of the city's administration. At another location in eastern Ukraine, AFP reporters watched as Ukrainian forces paraded -- and fired -- their new French-supplied truck-mounted Caesar howitzers.

The commander of the system, who gave his name only as Glib, said it would help make Ukraine's defences more agile, as gunners loosed three shells in the direction of Russian lines.

"This system is primarily very manoeuvrable and mobile," the officer from the 55th brigade said. "In modern warfare, this is a crucial factor.
"Our old systems are stationary, so to speak. This is truck-mounted artillery to put in the field," he added.

After its February invasion, Russia was driven back from Kyiv, prompting it to focus its offensive on Donbas, a mainly Russian-speaking region partly held by pro-Kremlin separatists since 2014.

Capturing Severodonetsk has become a key goal, as it would open the road to Sloviansk and another major city, Kramatorsk.

- NATO urges heavy weapons -

Kyiv's forces face an increasingly desperate situation in Severodonetsk, with Ukrainian authorities estimating the Russians now control up to 80 percent of the city as they seek to encircle it. From an elevated position in Lysychansk, an AFP team saw black smoke rising from the Azot factory in Severodonetsk and another area in the city. The Ukrainian military is using the high ground to exchange fire with Russian forces fighting for control of Severodonetsk, just across the water. Lysychansk pensioner Valentina sat on the porch of her ground-floor apartment, where she lives alone, her two walking sticks to hand. "It's scary, very scary," said the 83-year-old former farm worker. "Why can't they agree at last, for God's sake, just shake hands?"


©Agence France-Presse