US President Joe Biden has said his administration will provide an additional $800m in military assistance to Ukraine to help bolster its defences against an expected Russian offensive in the country’s east.
The package will include artillery systems, artillery rounds, armoured personnel carriers and helicopters, Biden said in a statement on Wednesday, after a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
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“This new package of assistance will contain many of the highly effective weapons systems we have already provided and new capabilities tailored to the wider assault we expect Russia to launch in eastern Ukraine,” Biden said.
“The steady supply of weapons the United States and its Allies and partners have provided to Ukraine has been critical in sustaining its fight against the Russian invasion.”
The announcement came as Zelenskyy has been pleading with US and European leaders to provide heavier arms and equipment to respond to Russia’s assault, which has killed thousands and displaced millions.
The new aid brings the total tally of US aid to Ukraine since Russian forces invaded the country on February 24 to more than $2.4bn.
Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from Washington, DC, said the package does not need congressional approval, “and those weapons, we are told, will be arriving in Ukraine as quickly as they can get them there”.
Some of the new equipment will require training for Ukrainian forces, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday afternoon.
“The systems that will probably require some additional training for Ukrainian forces are the howitzers [and] … the counter artillery radar, not a very difficult system to operate, but it’s not one that they have in their inventory,” Kirby said.
The development also came a day after Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin is committing “genocide” in Ukraine. On Wednesday, the Kremlin denounced the US president’s statements as “unacceptable”.
“We categorically disagree and consider unacceptable any attempt to distort the situation in this way,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Meanwhile, Ukraine has accused Russia of blocking aid convoys to civilians marooned in Mariupol, the southern port city that has been besieged by Russian forces for weeks. Local officials said earlier this week that about 21,000 people have died there since the invasion began.
Mariupol’s mayor, Vadym Boychenko, said Russia had brought in mobile crematoria “to get rid of evidence of war crimes” – a statement that was not possible to verify.
Moscow has denied targeting civilians during its offensive in Ukraine, instead blaming Ukraine for civilian deaths and accusing Kyiv of denigrating the country’s armed forces.
The Kremlin has said it launched a “special military operation” to demilitarise and “liberate” Ukraine, a message Ukrainians said had been repeated to them by Russian troops.
Moscow’s invasion has forced more than 4.6 million people to flee abroad, killed or wounded thousands, and left Russia increasingly isolated internationally.