The United States will send four more high-mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS) to Ukraine, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow's military "tasks" in Ukraine now go beyond the eastern Donbas region.
Austin told journalists at the Pentagon that Ukraine had made excellent use of the HIMARS that Washington had sent thus far, and their impact can be seen on the battlefield.
"Russia is keeping up its relentless shelling, and that's a cruel tactic that harkens back to the horrors of World War I. So Ukraine needs the firepower and the ammunition to withstand this barrage and to strike back," he said.
HIMARS have a longer range and are more precise than the Soviet-era artillery that Ukraine had in its arsenal, and Ukrainian officials have said their deployment has been critical in the fight to repel Russian troops and to strike their supply lines.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov on July 19 asked Washington to send more HIMARS, saying Kyiv's forces had used them to destroy some 30 Russian command stations and ammunition depots.
Reznikov and other Ukrainian defense officials participated in the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting on July 20, saying afterward that he and his colleagues drew three conclusions from the meeting: There is no war “fatigue” among allies backing Ukraine, there is an understanding that the security of all of Europe not just Ukraine is at stake, and many of Ukraine’s partners are prepared to train its soldiers.
The four additional HIMARS will bring to 16 the number sent by the United States. Austin said the new package would also include ammunition for multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS) that can precisely strike targets up to 80 kilometers away.
Austin said at the start of a virtual meeting with allies that the United States would continue to find innovative ways to support the Ukrainian armed forces and will tailor the assistance to ensure that Ukraine has the technology, ammunition, and "sheer firepower" to defend itself.
The United States has provided $8 billion in security assistance since the war began.
Lavrov's comments earlier in an interview with Russian state media were the clearest acknowledgment yet that Moscow has expanded its war goals.
Lavrov also said peace talks made no sense at the moment because Western governments were leaning on Ukraine to fight rather than negotiate.
Austin said Lavrov's comments were not a surprise and appeared to be aimed at the Russian population.
"I think he's talking to the people in Russia who have been ill-informed throughout," Austin told reporters.
Nearly five months after President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion, Russian forces are grinding through the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine and occupy around a fifth of the country.
U.S. General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Donbas region had not been lost by Ukrainians yet and described it as a "grinding war of attrition."
About 200 Ukrainian forces had been trained on the HIMARS and none of the systems had been destroyed by Russian forces, Milley said at a news conference.
A number of options are under consideration to further help Ukrainian troops, including training for pilots, but no decision has been made, Milley said.
Earlier on July 20, Lavrov told Russian media that the geographical objectives of Russia's "special military operation" in Ukraine were no longer limited to the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, commonly known as the Donbas.
"Now, the geography is different. And it is not only [the territories controlled by Kremlin-backed separatists in the Donbas] but also the Kherson region, the Zaporizhzhya region, and a number of other territories, and the process continues, and it continues consequently and persistently," he said in an interview with RIA Novosti news agency and RT television.
Lavrov added that "if the West delivers long-range weapons to Kyiv, the geographic goals of the special operation in Ukraine will expand even more."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said later on July 20 in his nightly video address that Ukraine is working on obtaining air defense systems from partners.
Noting the HIMARs, the anti-tank Javelins, and other weapons Ukraine has received, Zelenskiy said it was "obvious" that the next equally important type of weapon will be modern air defense systems.
Ukraine has had some successes in destroying missiles, "but a completely different speed and scale of protection is needed," Zelenskiy said.
He said the provision of such systems depends "on political decisions that can be made in key capitals," and noted that his wife, first lady Olena Zelenska, had made air defense part of her appeal when she spoke on July 20 to U.S. lawmakers.
Kyiv will quickly receive an answer to its requests, he said.
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