The United States announced Friday a new package of military aid for Ukraine that totals about $400 million, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
"This military assistance package includes more ammunition for U.S.-provided HIMARS and howitzers, which Ukraine is using so effectively to defend itself, as well as ammunition for Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles, Armored Vehicle Launched Bridges, demolitions munitions and equipment, and other maintenance, training and support," he said.
The package will be funded using the presidential drawdown authority, which authorizes the president to transfer articles and services from U.S. stocks without congressional approval during an emergency, Blinken said in announcing the aid.
The Armored Vehicle Launched Bridge is a portable, 60-foot folding metal bridge that is carried on top of a tank body. Providing that system now could help Ukrainian troops as they launch an expected spring offensive, making it easier for them to cross rivers to battle Russian forces.
Including this latest package, the U.S. has now provided more than $32 billion in military aid to Ukraine. The vehicle bridges and ammunition in the package can be delivered quickly to the front lines because they will be taken from existing Pentagon stocks.
European Union countries also are working to deliver thousands of shells to Ukraine under a $1 billion program.
Particularly significant will be the delivery of 155 mm NATO-standard howitzer rounds that are urgently needed in advance of an intense spring campaign, according to the Financial Times, citing anonymous EU officials. This ammunition, according to the FT report, is critical to keep Ukraine in a fight in which Russia fires on average an estimated four shells for every Ukrainian shell fired.
"We need as much ammunition as possible. There are many more Russians here than we have ammunition to destroy them," Volodymyr Nazarenko, a deputy commander in the National Guard of Ukraine, told Ukrainian NV Radio.
Leaders meet in Ukraine
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U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland made a surprise visit to Ukraine on Friday to attend a conference on justice and war crimes.
The U.S. Justice Department said Garland held several meetings at the conference in the western city of Lviv to reaffirm “our determination to hold Russia accountable for crimes committed in its unjust and unprovoked invasion against its sovereign neighbor.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who met with Garland as well as top European legal officials at the conference, called for Russia to face international prosecution for its crimes.
“We are doing everything to ensure that the International Criminal Court is successful in punishing Russian war criminals,” Zelenskyy said during his evening video address Friday.
Zelenskyy accused Russian forces of committing more than 70,000 war crimes and said, “the main issue of all these meetings and the Lviv conference is accountability.”
Russia denies committing war crimes or targeting civilians in Ukraine.
Along with Garland, other officials at Friday’s conference included British Attorney General Victoria Prentis, Spanish Attorney General Alvaro Garcia Ortiz, and European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders.
Fighting on the front line
On the battlefield, heavy fighting continued in the besieged eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
Ukrainian commander Nazarenko said the situation in the city was critical, with fighting going on around the clock.
Of the Russian offensive, he told Ukrainian NV Radio, "they take no account of their losses in trying to take the city by assault. The task of our forces in Bakhmut is to inflict as many losses on the enemy as possible. Every meter of Ukrainian land costs hundreds of lives to the enemy."
Bakhmut is being blasted to ruins as Russian troops and mercenaries shell the city’s last access routes to prevent Ukrainian troops from entering or leaving the city. A bridge in the adjacent town of Khromove was damaged by Russian tank shelling.
As Russian forces inch closer into Bakhmut, the head of Russia's Wagner Group mercenaries, Yevgeni Prighozin, said the city was almost surrounded, with only one road still open for Ukraine's troops. He spoke in a video recorded about 7 kilometers north of Bakhmut. "Only one route [out] is left," he said. "The pincers are closing."
He called on Zelenskyy to order a retreat from Bakhmut to save his soldiers' lives.
Ukrainian soldiers, however, were working to repair damaged roads, and more troops were heading toward the front line indicating Ukraine was not yet ready to relinquish the city. To the west, Ukrainians were digging new trenches for defensive positions.
Victory in Bakhmut would be a steppingstone to capturing the surrounding Donbas region, an important strategic goal. Ukraine says the city has little intrinsic strategic value but notes huge losses there could determine the course of the war.
Accusations of hypocrisy
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the United States of hypocrisy after Blinken said Russia cannot be allowed to wage war in Ukraine with impunity, during a security forum they attended Friday in New Delhi.
Lavrov said it was a “double standard” to question Russia’s action in Ukraine when the U.S. cited a “threat to its national interest” to justify military intervention in various parts of the world, including the war in Iraq, airstrikes on Libya, and the bombing of Yugoslavia during the Kosovo conflict in 1999.
Meanwhile, Russian defense companies are showcasing their products at major international arms fairs, Britain’s Defense Ministry said Friday in its daily update about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The companies are displaying the Arena-E active protection system, designed to improve the survivability of armored vehicles.
There is no evidence the system has been installed on Russian vehicles in Ukraine, where Russia has lost more than 5,000 armored vehicles, according to the British ministry.
That is likely due to Russian companies’ inability “to manufacture high-tech systems at scale,” the defense ministry said, “a problem which is exacerbated by the effect of international sanctions.”