The United States expected Russia’s war in Ukraine to go on for “many months” ahead despite pressure on the battlefield, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday, as the conflict neared its 100th day with Russian troops closing in on control of the key eastern city of Severodonetsk. Follow FRANCE 24’s liveblog for all the latest developments. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).
8:34am: Slovakia to deliver eight Zuzana 2 howitzers to Ukraine
Slovakia will deliver eight self-propelled Zuzana 2 howitzers to Ukraine under a commercial contract which a state-controlled producer signed, the Slovak Defence Ministry said on Thursday.
The Zuzana 2 howitzer, a modernised version of an older model, is using 155-mm rounds and has an effective range of 40 km (25 miles) to more than 50 km (30 miles) depending on the ammunition type.
8:24am: Civilians ‘completely stuck’ in Severodonetsk
Civilians in Severodonetsk are “completely stuck” in the city and “no rescue teams are able any more to go there”, FRANCE 24’s Jonathan Walsh reported from Dnipro. Dnipro is a “humanitarian hub here in eastern Ukraine, and we spoke to a rescue team yesterday who tried to drive towards Severodonetsk and they had to stop before that”, Walsh continued. “The Russians now hold most of the city and there’s intense fighting in the city centre.”
6:58am: Russian forces ‘consolidating their positions’ in Severodonetsk
“The main military spokesman in Kyiv […] said ‘let’s not talk about this in percentage terms’; clearly a lot of Severodonetsk might be regarded as disputed territory and fighting is still going on on the streets of that city,” FRANCE 24’s Gulliver Cragg reported from Kyiv.
“But earlier the regional governor […] had talked about 70 percent of the city being in Russian hands; clearly the Russians are advancing in the city. Ukrainian media [are] also reporting that the Russians have been consolidating their positions in parts of the city.”
06:18 am: Ukrainians look to new shipment of US weapons as Russians tighten grip on Severodonetsk
Russian forces edged closer Wednesday to taking the key eastern Ukraine city of Severodonetsk but Kyiv’s hopes of holding off their invaders were boosted by a US pledge of more advanced rocket systems to help their defence.
The Russians had taken control of 70 percent of the key industrial hub, with Ukrainian forces withdrawing to prepared positions, Lugansk region governor Sergiy Gaiday said.
“If in two or three days, the Russians take control of Severodonetsk, they will install artillery and mortars and will bombard more intensely Lysychansk,” the Ukrainian-held city across the river, he said on Telegram.
Ukraine successfully stopped Russia from seizing Kyiv after its February 24 invasion but the campaign in the east has had a high cost, with President Volodymyr Zelensky saying that 60 to 100 soldiers were dying each day.
“The situation in the east is very difficult,” Zelensky told US newsgroup Newsmax.
With only Lysychansk remaining a pocket of resistance in the eastern Lugansk region, Severodonetsk has become a target of massive Russian firepower.
Oleksander Motuzianyk, spokesman for Ukraine’s defence ministry, said there was fighting in the streets in Severodonetsk and the Russians had reached the city centre.
“The Ukrainian armed forces are actively resisting them,” he said.
In a boost for the outgunned Ukrainian military, US President Joe Biden confirmed that longer-range weapons were on the way.
The new weapon is the Himars multiple launch rocket system, or MLRS, a mobile unit that can simultaneously launch multiple precision-guided missiles up to 80 kilometres (50 miles) away.
They are the centrepiece of a $700 million package unveiled Wednesday that also includes air-surveillance radar, more Javelin short-range anti-tank rockets, artillery ammunition, helicopters, vehicles and spare parts.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Washington of “adding fuel to the fire”, saying that the weapons would not encourage Kyiv to resume peace talks.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Ukraine had promised not to strike into Russia—and dismissed suggestions that Washington was to blame for escalating with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Simply put, the best way to avoid escalation is for Russia to stop the aggression and the war that it started,” Blinken told reporters.
He promised that the United States would keep assisting Ukraine, saying there were no signs of Russia pulling back.
“As best we can assess right now, we are still looking at many months of conflict,” he said.
While some analysts have suggested the Himars could be a “game-changer”, others caution they should not be expected to suddenly turn the tables, not least because Ukrainian troops need time to learn how to use them effectively.
But they may improve morale after 98 days of war.
“If you know you have a heavy weapon behind you, everyone’s spirits rise,” one Ukrainian fighter on the frontline told AFP before the announcement.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)