Wednesday, 01 February 2023 05:44

What to know after Day 337 of Russia-Ukraine war

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U.S. readies $2 billion-plus Ukraine aid package with longer-range weapons

The United States is readying more than $2 billion worth of military aid for Ukraine that is expected to include longer-range rockets for the first time as well as other munitions and weapons, two U.S. officials briefed on the matter told Reuters on Tuesday.

The aid is expected to be announced as soon as this week, the officials said. It is also expected to include support equipment for Patriot air defense systems, precision-guided munitions and Javelin anti-tank weapons, they added.

One of the officials said a portion of the package, expected to be $1.725 billion, would come from a fund known as the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI), which allows President Joe Biden's administration to get weapons from industry rather than from U.S. weapons stocks.

The USAI funds would go toward the purchase of a new weapon, the Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB) made by Boeing Co, which have a range of 94 miles (150 km). The United States has rebuffed Ukraine's requests for the 185-mile (297-km) range ATACMS missile.

The longer range of the GLSDB glide bomb could allow Ukraine to hit targets that have been out of reach and help it continue pressing its counterattacks by disrupting Russia further behind its lines.

Reuters first reported on Boeing's proposal to field GLSDB for Ukraine in November. At the time it was expected GLSDB could be in Ukraine by spring.

GLSDB is made jointly by SAAB AB and Boeing. It combines the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) with the M26 rocket motor, both of which are common in U.S. inventories.

GLSDB is GPS-guided, can defeat some electronic jamming, is usable in all weather conditions, and can be used against armored vehicles, according to SAAB's website. The GBU-39 - which would function as the GLSDB's warhead - has small, folding wings that allow it to glide more than 100km if dropped from an aircraft and hit targets as small as 3 feet (1 meter) in diameter.

The USAI funds would also be used to pay for more components of HAWK air defenses, counter drone systems, counter artillery and air surveillance radars, communications equipment, PUMA drones, and spare parts for major systems like Patriot and Bradley, one of the officials said.

There was also a significant amount of medical equipment - enough to equip three field hospitals being donated by another ally, the official added.

The White House declined to comment. The contents and size of aid packages can shift until they are signed by the president.

In addition to the USAI funds, more than $400 million worth of aid was expected to come from Presidential Drawdown Authority funds, which allows the president to take from current U.S. stocks in an emergency.

That aid was expected to include mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs), guided multiple launch rocket systems (GMLRS) and ammunition.

The U.S. has sent approximately $27.2 billion worth of security assistance to Ukraine since Russia's February 2022 invasion. Russia calls the invasion a "special operation".

** Russia presses ahead with Donetsk campaign; Ukraine wants fighter jets

Russian forces are making incremental gains in their push to take territory in Ukraine's eastern province of Donetsk, focusing on the town of Bakhmut north of the regional capital.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's government is lobbying hard for some of its neighbours and Western allies to supply fighter jets that it can use to repulse Russian advances. It took months of Ukraine's appeals before Western countries last week pledged modern battle tanks, and Kyiv wants jets sooner rather than later.

In Paris after meeting Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov, French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu said "there was no taboo" about supplying Kyiv with fighter planes.

The United States and Britain have thus far rejected the idea but repeated their willingness to continue military support to Ukraine, which Russian forces invaded in February 2022 in what Moscow called a "special military operation" to protect Russian security and Russian speakers. The invasion has killed thousands of civilians, uprooted millions and reduced cities to rubble.

More recently Russia has characterized the conflict as confronting what it says is an aggressive and expansionist U.S.-led NATO military alliance.

The West has so far refused to send weapons that could be used to attack deep inside Russia for fear of starting a wider war although Moscow has denounced recent Western pledges of weapons as provocations.

The United States, which has provided Ukraine about $27.2 billion in military aid since Russia's invasion, is preparing a $2.2 billion package of additional assistance. That is expected to offer Kyiv longer-range rockets for the first time and other munitions and weapons, two U.S. officials briefed on the matter told Reuters on Tuesday.


Bakhmut came under renewed fire as did Klishchiivka and Kurdyumivka, villages on the southern approaches to Bakhmut, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in a statement on Tuesday night.

Weeks of relentless pounding of Bakhmut have been similar to the drive by Russian forces to capture two cities further north - Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk - in June and July.

Russian forces on Tuesday made no headway in attempts to advance on Avdiivka, the second focal point of Russian attacks in Donetsk region, Kyiv's military general staff said.

Russian forces also tried to advance near Lyman, a town further north in Donetsk region that was recaptured by Ukrainian forces in October, the military said.

Russia was reaching further west in Donetsk by firing on the town of Vuhledar and a half dozen other towns and villages, the Ukraine military said. Vuhledar is about 148 km (90 miles) away from the main fighting in and around Bakhmut.

Britain's Ministry of Defence said the Russian force in the new Vuhledar assault was at least the size of a brigade, a unit typically comprising several thousand troops.

The Ukrainian military statement did not mention the village of Blahodatne, which Russia says it has captured, and sits on one of the main roads into Bakhmut about 5 km (3 miles) north.

Reuters was not immediately able to verify the situation there or other battlefield reports.

Zelenskiy said he had several meetings with top defence officials on Tuesday.

"We are examining in detail all the key sectors and what the prospects for them are," he said in an evening video address, without providing details. "What the occupier is preparing and how we are already responding to Russia's preparations to wreak revenge," a reference to the setbacks Ukrainian troops inflicted on Russian forces last year in repelling advances around the country and retaking territory that had been occupied by Russia.


In Washington, the United States said Russia was violating the New START nuclear arms control treaty between the two countries. U.S. President Joe Biden's administration has been eager to preserve the treaty but ties with Moscow are the worst in decades over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"Russia’s refusal to facilitate inspection activities prevents the United States from exercising important rights under the treaty and threatens the viability of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control," a State Department spokesperson said.

Also in Washington, former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a staunch supporter of providing military aid to Ukraine, met with Republican lawmakers. The Republicans took over the House of Representatives from the Democrats at the start of this year and some hardline members among them have called for an end to U.S. military and other assistance to Ukraine, which amounts to tens of billions of dollars.

"My mission is to demonstrate that Ukraine will win - and that there is no conceivable case for delay in further supporting the Ukrainians to win this year," Johnson said in a statement.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will discuss Russia's war in Ukraine with Chinese officials during a Feb. 5-6 trip to China, the White House said on Tuesday.

A week after seeming to open the door for Russia and Belarus to compete at the 2024 Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it is standing by sanctions imposed against the countries over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.


Ukrainian intelligence chief threatens attacks in Russia

Russia will continue to experience “problems” until it withdraws from Ukraine and restores the country's territorial integrity, Kiev’s top intelligence official, Kirill Budanov, warned in an interview with the Washington Post on Tuesday.

The Ukrainian Intelligence Directorate (GUR) chief added that Kiev currently has people planting explosives on the territory of Russia, and hinted at a potential string of terrorist attacks in the country in the near future.

Asked about his involvement in the attack on the Crimean Bridge in October and the two drone attacks on Russian air bases in December, Budanov refused to confirm his special forces were behind the strikes. He did, however, warn that there would be more attacks of that nature.

“This shattered their illusions of safety,” Budanov told the Post. “There are people who plant explosives. There are drones. Until the territorial integrity of Ukraine is restored, there will be problems inside Russia.”

He also issued a warning to the Kremlin, stating that there are Ukrainian collaborators in its midst –“people who are very easy to work with” and who Kiev actively supports.

Budanov went on to insist that Ukraine must “do everything to ensure that Crimea returns home by summer” and dismissed suggestions that Moscow could use nuclear weapons if Kiev’s troops reach the peninsula, which officially joined Russia following a referendum in 2014.

“It’s a scare tactic,” he said. “Russia is a country that you can expect a lot from but not outright idiocy. Sorry, but it’s not going to happen. Carrying out a nuclear strike will result in not just a military defeat for Russia but the collapse of Russia.”

Moscow, meanwhile, has insisted that Crimea is part of Russia and warned that it would respond to any threats to its territory with “more powerful weapons.” 

Earlier this month, Duma chairman Vyacheslav Volodin also cautioned that a “global tragedy” could be in store for humanity if the West continued to arm Ukraine with weapons that Kiev could use to strike civilian cities and attempt to seize Russian territories.

** Netanyahu says ready to consider role of Ukrainian crisis mediator

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told CNN in an interview he was ready to consider the role of a mediator in the Ukrainian crisis if all stakeholders ask him to do so.

"If asked by all relevant parties, I’ll certainly consider it, but I’m not pushing myself in," he said, adding that his country’s close ally, the United States, will also need to ask.

Netanyahu told CNN he had been asked to act as a mediator between Moscow and Kiev in the very beginning of the Ukrainian crisis.

The premier said he was an opposition leader at that point, but did not answer the question of who asked him. He also said the request was unofficial.