Russian forces arrive in the center of the main city of Ukraine in the United States to send precision missiles to Kyiv

  • Russia criticizes US missile supplies
  • The Russians control 70% of the Severodonetsk region
  • chemical plant hit

Kyiv (Reuters) – Russian forces on Wednesday made their way into the center of the Ukrainian industrial city of Severodonetsk and appeared close to winning a big prize in their offensive in the eastern Donbass region.

But in a boost to Ukraine, which is locked in a grinding struggle against an invading army, the United States announced a new $700 million arms package for Kiev that includes advanced missile systems capable of hitting targets up to 80 kilometers away.

Moscow accused the United States of adding “fuel to the fire” and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the supply of missile launchers increased the risk of a “third country” being drawn into the conflict.

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US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Ukraine had promised Washington that it would not use missile systems to strike targets inside Russia. US President Joe Biden has expressed hope that increased arms supplies will help push Moscow to negotiate an end to the war, now in its fourth month.

After days of fierce fighting around Sievierodonetsk, much of which was destroyed by Russian artillery bombardment, Russian forces were slowly advancing through the city’s streets.

“The enemy has entered the center of Severodonetsk and is trying to take positions. The situation is very difficult,” Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksandr Motozyanek told a news briefing.

“I do not want to evaluate or give any percentage of what we control and do not control. We know the enemy’s goals and do everything in our power to prevent their achievement,” he said.

If Russia captures the city and its smaller twin Lysychansk on the west bank of the Siverskyi Donets, it will keep all of Luhansk, one of two Donbas districts claimed by Moscow on behalf of the separatists and a major war objective of Russian President Vladimir putting it in.

Provincial Governor Serhiy Gaidai said that 70% of the city was under Russian control, about 10-15% was a “kind of gray area” and the rest was controlled by Ukrainian defenders.

“There were some counterattacks on scattered streets,” he said.

He said about 15,000 people remained in the city.

“There are civilians out there in shelters, quite a few of them stayed, and most of them didn’t want to leave.”

He also said that a Russian air strike hit an Azot chemical plant in Severodonetsk on Tuesday, blowing out a tank of toxic nitric acid and releasing a plume of pink smoke. Reuters could not independently confirm the cause of the accident.

Gaidai said Lysichansk was easier to defend because it was on a hill, but that Russian forces would target it with artillery and mortars once Severodonetsk was in full control.

The leader of the pro-Moscow Luhansk People’s Republic, Leonid Bashnik, told the TASS news agency that Russian agents had advanced more slowly than expected to protect the city’s infrastructure and “be careful around its chemical plants”.

As many as 12,000 civilians remain trapped in the crossfire, without access to enough water, food, medicine or electricity, said Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council’s relief agency, which has long operated out of Severodonetsk.

Putin sent his forces across the border in what he called a special military operation on February 24 to disarm and “disarm” Ukraine. Ukraine and its allies called this a baseless excuse to launch a war of aggression, and the West imposed tough sanctions on Russia in an attempt to stifle its economy.

Thousands of people have been killed in Ukraine and millions more displaced since the invasion began. Read more

Weapon Pack

Besides HIMARS precision missile systems, the new US package includes munitions, anti-fire radars, air-surveillance radars, additional Javelin anti-tank missiles and anti-armor weapons, officials said.

“The United States will stand with our Ukrainian partners and will continue to provide Ukraine with weapons and equipment for its self-defense,” President Biden said in a statement.

The decision to give Ukraine the missile systems came after Washington received assurances from Kyiv that it would not use them to strike targets inside Russian territory, which could lead to a dangerous escalation of the war.

Ukraine is seeking Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) such as the M270 and M142 HIMARS to provide more firepower at longer ranges to strike Russian troop concentrations and weapons stockpiles in the rear of Russian forces.

White House Deputy National Security Adviser Jonathan Viner said Washington believed the system would meet Kyiv’s needs.

“This is a defensive struggle that the Ukrainians are fighting,” Viner said in an interview with CNN. Russia brought this upon itself by launching an invasion of a sovereign country from its territory.

The new supplies come in addition to billions of dollars in equipment such as drones and anti-aircraft missiles.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the supplies would not encourage the Ukrainian leadership to restart the stalled peace talks.

“We believe that the United States is deliberately and earnestly pouring fuel on the fire,” Peskov said.

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Reporting by Reuters offices. Written by Gareth Jones and Angus McSwan; Editing by Lincoln Fest, Frank Jack Daniel and Hugh Lawson

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.