A meeting of defense officials from more than three dozen nations Tuesday helped unify the West’s efforts to aid Ukraine “win today and build strength for tomorrow,” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.
“Countries all around the world have been stepping up to meet Ukraine’s urgent needs,” Austin said following the meeting at the U.S. Ramstein Air Base in Germany. “We’ve got to move at the speed of war.”
Austin said Germany, which had balked to providing heavy weaponry to Ukraine, had agreed to send 50 anti-aircraft weapons to the embattled nation now in its third month of a grueling war against Russia’s invading force. Austin lauded “countries all around the world that have been stepping up to meet Ukraine’s urgent needs.”
He said similar meetings will be held once a month, either virtually or in person. Before the meeting, Austin had promised to “keep moving heaven and earth” to support Ukraine. The U.S. and its allies have committed more than $5 billion worth of equipment to Ukraine’s defense, he said.
“Russia’s invasion is indefensible,” Austin said. “So are Russian atrocities.”
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►New York’s Metropolitan Opera and Opera Narodowa of Poland, in a gesture of solidarity with war victims, will gather leading Ukrainian musicians into the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra for a European and American tour from July 28 to Aug. 20.
►Poland’s government says it is imposing sanctions on 50 Russian entities and individuals over Russia’s war against Ukraine.
►The European Union intends to reduce its dependence on Russian oil and gas by two-thirds by year’s end and to zero by 2028, European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni told the Messaggero daily.
►Mariupol is drawing global notice, but local officials said at least nine people were killed and several more wounded by Russian attacks elsewhere in eastern and southern Ukraine. Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the Donetsk region, said Russian forces “continue to deliberately fire at civilians and to destroy critical infrastructure.”
►German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said her government has cleared delivery of self-propelled armored anti-aircraft guns. Chancellor Olaf Scholz has faced mounting pressure to approve sending heavy weapons to Ukraine.
A third mass grave has been found near the embattled Ukrainian city of Mariupol, and the mayor says Russian occupiers have forced residents to work on the burials.
The trench, seen on satellite images, stretches more than 200 yards – and contains thousands of civilian bodies, Mayor Vadym Boychenko said.
“We know about these mass graves because these fascists – and I have no other words – involve the local population for burial,” Boychenko told Radio Svoboda. “They told us that you need to work hours (for) food, water. … People are forced to do so.”
Weeks of Russian bombardments have devastated the community and shrunk the once-bustling city of more than 400,000 to a small fraction of that number. Russian forces control most of the city; holdouts are centered in and around the sprawling Azovstal steel plant. The British Defense Ministry says Russia’s decision to besiege rather than attack the plant means many Russian units cannot be redeployed elsewhere in the country.
“Ukraine’s defense of Mariupol has also exhausted many Russian units and reduced their combat effectiveness,” the British assessment says.
Ukraine has the right to used Western-provided weapons to strike military targets on Russian soil, U.K. Defense Minister James Heappey said. Such strikes aimed at disrupting supply lines are “entirely legitimate,” he told the BBC.
Heappey also dismissed a top Russian diplomat assertion that the danger of a nuclear conflict is “serious” and “real.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made the statements on Russian TV, accusing Ukrainian leaders and NATO of provoking Russia by “pouring oil on the fire” with the advanced weaponry. Heappey said the likelihood of nuclear war is “vanishingly small” since it would not be in the best interested of any country.
U.S. diplomats are returning to Ukraine this week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday. Pressed on when the U.S. is reopening its embassy operations there, Blinken said he expects diplomats to first work out of Lviv before going back to Kyiv after assessing how the embassy there can be securely reopened.
“We want to have our embassy reopened and we’re working to do that,” he said.
The U.S. relocated its embassy operations to Poland days before Russian began its invasion on Feb. 24. Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged a speedy reopening.
“All our European partners are already back there,” Risch said. “We need people on the ground to help Ukraine meet its needs immediately.”
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde lashed out at Russia officials for expelling four Swedish diplomats, calling the action “unjustified and disproportionate.” By expelling Western diplomats, Russia is intensifying its international isolation, she said on Twitter. Three Russian diplomats were expelled from Sweden earlier this month.
“Sweden will respond appropriately to Russia’s unwarranted actions,” Linde said.
On Monday, media outlets in Finland and Sweden reported that both nations will apply next month to join NATO. One of Russia’s stated reasons for its invasion of Ukraine was concern over NATO expansion.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby on Tuesday reiterated the Defense Department’s interest in seeing Russia weakened so it cannot threaten its geographic neighbors.
“Russia continues to isolate itself, its economy is in tatters, its military has been depleted in many ways … they are a weaker military, they are a weaker state right now,” Kirby said in an interview with CNN. “We don’t want to see Russia able to conduct this kind of invasion again in the future.”
Kirby also responded to comments made by Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on raising the specter of nuclear war, calling them “obviously unhelpful, not constructive and certainly not indicative of what a responsible nuclear power ought to be doing in a public sphere.”
– Ella Lee
Contributing: The Associated Press