The U.S. announced a new package of military aid Friday 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.
Latest Developments in Ukraine: March 3
The so-called 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 and make 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 will 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 where 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, said.
Nazarenko told Ukrainian NV Radio the situation in the besieged city of Bakhmut in Eastern Ukraine was critical, with fighting going on around the clock.
Of the Russian offensive, he said, "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 Ukrainian President Volodymyr 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.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the United States of hypocrisy after Secretary of State 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 promoting the Arena-E active protection system that the ministry said is designed to improve the survivability of armored vehicles.
The APS promotional material at a recent show said it “defeats the threats that are most dangerous for 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.”