US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin urges allies not to “lose steam” on sending weapons to Ukraine as Kyiv pleads desperately for heavier arms to hold back Russia’s invasion. SOUNDBITE
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.
“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.
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”.
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.
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”.
Earlier, Ukraine had delivered a message to the meeting on behalf of its embattled troops struggling to hold back a Russian offensive.
“Daily, I receive a message from the defenders: ‘We are holding on, just say: when to expect the weapons?'” he said.
– ‘Critical situation’ –
“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.
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”.
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.
About 500 civilians are taking shelter in Severodonetsk’s Azot chemical plant, according to the head of the city’s administration.
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.
“Our old systems are stationary, so to speak. This is truck-mounted artillery to put in the field,” he added.
Capturing Severodonetsk has become a key goal, as it would open the road to Sloviansk and another major city, Kramatorsk.
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.
The Ukrainian military is using the high ground to exchange fire with Russian forces fighting for control of Severodonetsk, just across the water.
“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?”
Originally published as West pledges more arms for Ukraine, as Russia and China renew ties