US promises Ukraine swift munitions delivery as Russia advances on battlefield

People look at fragments of a television tower that was broken in half after it was hit by a Russian missile in Kharkiv, Ukraine, April 22, 2024. [AP Photo]

The White House promises swift delivery of the approved $61 billion in aid to Ukraine as Russia’s recent gains on the battlefield threaten Ukraine’s defenses.

President Joe Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy Monday, underscoring the United States’ “lasting commitment to supporting Ukraine as it defends its freedom against Russian aggression,” the White House said.

Biden stressed that his administration will “quickly provide significant new security assistance packages to meet Ukraine’s urgent battlefield and air defense needs as soon as the Senate passes the national security supplemental, and he signs it into law.”

The U.S. president added that the U.S. economic assistance “will help maintain financial stability, build back critical infrastructure following Russian attacks, and support reform as Ukraine moves forward on the path of Euro-Atlantic integration.”

In a Telegram post, the Ukrainian leader said that in the phone call with President Biden he expressed his gratitude for Biden’s support and leadership and noted the role of House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson and House Minority leader Hakeem Jeffries in securing passage of a major military aid bill to Ukraine.

He also said he told Biden about the "Russian air terror through thousands of missiles, drones and bombs" and added a Russian strike on a television tower in Ukraine's second largest city, Kharkiv, occurred minutes before their conversation.

Experts and Ukrainian lawmakers said it could take weeks for the assistance to reach troops but expressed hope that the artillery rounds, precision-guided missiles and air defenses promised to Ukraine will change the military outlook for the country locked in a defensive war against Russia.

"With the boost that will come from military assistance, both practically and psychologically, the Ukrainians are entirely capable of holding their own through 2024 and puncturing [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s arrogant view that time is on his side," CIA Director William Burns said Thursday at the Bush Center Forum on Leadership in Dallas.

Nevertheless, uncertainties remain as to whether Ukraine can keep its defenses strong beyond 2024 according to analysts.

"Ukraine needs to use 2024 to rebuild its force for the long war," said Max Bergmann, director of the Europe, Russia and Eurasia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"Europe’s goal should be to put itself in a position to potentially fill a future gap left by the United States should it not pass another supplemental," he added.

EU mulls Ukraine aid

At a meeting of EU defense and foreign ministers in Luxembourg Monday, there was no sign of more pledges of vitally needed air defense for Kyiv.

"We have to step up. It's a crucial time," Latvia's foreign minister Baiba Braze said at the start of the meeting.

Referring to the approval of the package for Kyiv by the U.S. House of Representatives Saturday, Lithuania's foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said, "We dodged a historic bullet but, unfortunately, many more bullets are on the way" and added, "we can be joyous for a day, but we have to be prepared for the battles to come tomorrow."

Ukraine has been pleading with its EU allies to ramp up supplies of air defenses desperately needed to repel Russian attacks.

With the U.S. military aid package delayed and with Europe struggling to come up with the weaponry needed to keep Kyiv in the fight and Ukrainian forces being pushed back along the front line — Ukraine may be running out of time, said Ukraine's head of military intelligence Kyrylo Budanov in a BBC interview published Monday.

"In our opinion, a rather difficult situation awaits us in the near future," Budanov told the BBC's Ukrainian service, adding he expects Russia to step up its offensive on the front by mid-May and early June.

"But it is not catastrophic, and we need to understand that. Armageddon will not happen, as many people are now saying," he added.

His assessment comes as outgunned and outmanned Ukrainian forces struggle to hold back Russian troops, who have gained ground in recent months and are expected to soon step up their offensive.

Russian advances

Russia’s defense ministry said Monday that its forces had taken full control of the village of Novomykhailivka 40 km (25 miles) southwest of the Ukrainian city of Donetsk and that they had "improved the tactical situation along the front line."

This is the second military advance claimed by Russia in two days after Russia’s claim Sunday, its forces have taken hold of the settlement of Bohdanivka, located west of the Russian-held city of Bakhmut in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region.

Ukraine’s military said Monday, Russia’s force of 20,000-25,000 troops is trying to storm the strategically important eastern Ukrainian town of Chasiv Yar and its surrounding villages in the partially occupied Donetsk region.

So far, Ukraine says it has full control of Chasiv Yar, but it said Russia wants to capture the town by May 9 when it marks Soviet Victory Day in World War II.

"The situation around the town is difficult, however, the situation is controllable. ... Our defenders are both receiving reinforcement and stabilizing the line," said Nazar Voloshyn, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s eastern military command in televised comments on public broadcaster Suspilne.

The capture of Chasiv Yar would bring Russia closer to two strategically important cities under Ukrainian control, Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.

Some information for this report came from Reuters, The Associated Press, and Agence France-Presse.

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