Western nations pledge more support and weapons for Ukraine

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attends a working session of G7 leaders via video link, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Western nations on Monday pledged unwavering support for Ukraine in the war with Russia, including more sanctions on Moscow and much-needed air defence systems, as Russian forces closed in on the last big city still held by Ukrainian troops in eastern Luhansk province.

Leaders of the Group of Seven major democracies, meeting at a summit at an alpine resort in Germany, said they would keep sanctions on Moscow for as long as necessary and would intensify international economic and political pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government and its ally Belarus.

“Imagine if we allowed Putin to get away with the violent acquisition of huge chunks of another country, sovereign, independent territory,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the BBC.

The United States said it was finalising a weapons package for Ukraine that would include long range air defence systems – arms that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had specifically requested when he addressed the leaders by video link from Kyiv on Monday.

Despite the boost from its allies, Ukraine was enduring another difficult day on the battlefront following the loss of the city of Sievierodonetsk over the weekend after weeks of bombardments and street fighting.

Russian artillery was pounding Lysychansk, just across Siversky Donets River from now-ruined Sievierodonetsk. Luhansk province governor Serhiy Gaidai said Lysychansk was suffering “catastrophic” damage. He urged civilians to evacuate urgently.

“The situation in the city is very difficult,” Gaidai said.

The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said the Russians were trying to cut off Lysychansk from the south. Russian war planes had also struck near the city, the general staff said in its daily update.

Luhansk and neighbouring Donetsk province make up Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region – the country’s industrial heartland. The Donbas became a prime target for the Kremlin after Russian troops failed to take the capital Kyiv in the early stages of the war, which is now in its fifth month.

Russian forces also control a swathe of territory in the south, including the port city of Mariupol, which fell after a long siege that left it in ruins.

On Sunday, Russian missiles struck Kyiv for the first time in weeks.

In his address to the G7 leaders, Zelenskiy had pleaded for more arms, U.S. and European officials said. He also asked for help to export grain from Ukraine and for more sanctions on Russia.

U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington was in the process of finalising a package that included long-range air defence systems and would meet Ukraine’s artillery ammunition needs.

Earlier, a source in Washington said the United States was likely to announce this week the purchase of advanced medium to long range surface-to-air missile defence for Ukraine.

The G7 nations promised to tighten the squeeze on Russia’s finances with new sanctions including a proposal to cap the price of Russian oil. A U.S. official said an oil price cap deal was “close.”

“We will continue to provide financial, humanitarian, military and diplomatic support and stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes,” a G7 statement said.

The G7 countries said they had also pledged or were ready to grant up to $29.5 billion for Ukraine.

The announcements came as the White House said Russia had defaulted on its foreign sovereign bonds for the first time in a century – an assertion Moscow rejected.

Sanctions have effectively cut Russia out of the global financial system but the war has created difficulties for countries way beyond Russia’s borders, with curtailed food and energy supplies hitting the global economy.

These include Ukrainian grain exports, now trapped in ports, which normally feed millions of people across the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere.

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 in what the Kremlin calls a “special military operation” to rid the country of far-right nationalists and ensure Russian security.

Kyiv and the West dismiss that as a baseless pretext for a war of aggression that has killed thousands, sent millions fleeing Ukraine, and laid waste to cities.

At the summit, U.S. President Joe Biden emphasised the need for unity amid concern that there were diverging opinions in European capitals about how best to handle the situation.

“Putin has been counting on it from the beginning that somehow the NATO and the G7 would splinter. But we haven’t and we’re not going to,” Biden said.

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