US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has announced new aid for Ukraine totalling more than $1bn in a visit to Kyiv, including about $665m in new military and civilian security assistance, as he hailed the months-long counteroffensive against the Russian forces in the country’s southeast.
The new US aid would include HIMARS missile launch systems, Javelin antitank weapons, Abrams tanks and other weapons systems, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Wednesday. The Pentagon said it would also send depleted uranium ammunition, which is highly effective at piercing armour plates, but their use is controversial.
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“In the ongoing counteroffensive, progress has accelerated in the past few weeks. This new assistance will help sustain it and build further momentum,” Blinken told reporters at a news conference with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Wednesday that coincided with a Russian attack in eastern Ukraine that killed at least 16 people.
Al Jazeera’s Rosiland Jordan, reporting from Washington, said the latest military aid package is meant to support Ukraine in its counteroffensive.
“The $175m that the US is providing in direct military aid is to support the Ukrainian military counteroffensive namely by providing among other things depleted uranium munitions that would be fired from Abrams tanks, 10 of which will be arriving in Ukraine mid-September,” she said.
Blinken also met President Volodymyr Zelenskyy who thanked the US for support but warned that Ukraine expected difficult months ahead as winter approached.
“We’re happy that we’re not alone through this winter, we will do it together with our partners,” he told Blinken.
Asked about Blinken’s visit, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Moscow believed Washington planned to continue funding Ukraine’s military “to wage this war to the last Ukrainian”.
He said US aid to Kyiv would not affect the course of what he called Russia’s special military operation.
Blinken’s visit was overshadowed by the attack on Kostiantynivka – an eastern town of nearly 70,000 people about 20km (12 miles) from the front line. Russian shelling killed at least 16 people and wounded dozens at a market in the town, according to officials.
“This Russian evil must be defeated as soon as possible,” Zelenskyy said, describing it as a deliberate attack on a “peaceful city”. Aides posted footage showing an explosion after what sounded like a missile approaching, and people scurrying for cover or falling to the ground.
Russia did not immediately comment on the attack and has denied deliberately targeting civilians.
The White House condemned the attack, calling it “brutal”.
“These brutal Russian attacks underscore the importance of continuing to support the people of Ukraine as they defend their territory,” Jean-Pierre said.
Meanwhile, the UN’s humanitarian envoy for Ukraine denounced the attack.
“The despicable attack that a few hours ago hit a populated market in Kostyantynivka, in the Donetsk region, brutalised civilians in this war-torn community, killing and injuring dozens of adults and children,” humanitarian coordinator Denise Brown said in a statement.
The European Union also condemned the attack, calling it “heinous and barbaric”.