US military personnel stand by a M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) during Saudi Arabia’s first World Defense Show, north of the capital Riyadh, on March 6, 2022. (FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP)
WASHINGTON/KYIV/BRUSSELS – The United States will send medium-range rocket systems to Ukraine in a new security assistance package, senior administration officials said Tuesday.
A $700 million weapon package will be formally unveiled Wednesday, including High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), which are to enable Ukraine to fire more precisely at targets in its eastern part, the officials said.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Ukrainian officials had offered assurances that the HIMARS would not be used to strike targets inside the Russian territory.
Instead of those long-range rocket systems that can travel as far as 300 km, the United States is sending what it considers medium-range rockets to Ukraine, ones that can travel about 80 km, according to senior US administration officials
The announcement came amid reports that the United States was preparing to aid Ukraine with advanced long-range rocket systems, something Kyiv is craving in its fights against Russia in the eastern Donbass region.
Instead of those long-range rocket systems that can travel as far as 300 km, the United States is sending what it considers medium-range rockets to Ukraine, ones that can travel about 80 km, according to the officials.
Also on Tuesday, US President Joe Biden wrote in a guest essay carried by The New York Times that his administration will continue to "provide the Ukrainians with more advanced rocket systems and munitions that will enable them to more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield in Ukraine."
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The United States does not seek "a war" between NATO and Russia, Biden said.
On Monday, he ruled out the possibility of Washington sending to Ukraine "rocket systems that can strike into Russia."
Slovak President Zuzana Caputova (center) visits the Slovak-Ukrainian border to hand over humanitarian aid at the border crossing in Ubla, eastern Slovakia, on Feb 27, 2022. (PETER LAZAR / AFP)
Slovakia's defense support
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday met with his Slovak counterpart Zuzana Caputova to discuss defense support for Kyiv, Zelensky's press service reported.
During the talks, Zelensky said that Slovakia has made a significant contribution to the strengthening of Ukraine's defense capabilities and praised the personal role of Caputova in granting defensive aid to Ukraine.
Slovakia has provided Ukraine with the S-300 air defense system and demining equipment, and supported sanctions against Russia, said Slovak President Zuzana Caputova
"I have been assured that Slovakia will continue to provide maximum security assistance to Ukraine," Zelensky told reporters after the talks.
For her part, Caputova said that Slovakia has supported Ukraine from the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine conflict by providing not only military aid, but also political and humanitarian assistance.
Slovakia has provided Ukraine with the S-300 air defense system and demining equipment, and supported sanctions against Russia, Caputova said.
Zelensky and Caputova also talked about the prospects for Ukraine to obtain a candidate status to the European Union, financial support for Kyiv, Slovakia's role in Ukraine's post-conflict recovery, and assistance to Ukrainians who were forced to temporarily leave their homes due to the conflict.
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According to official figures, some 78,000 Ukrainians, including 31,000 children, have fled Ukraine to Slovakia since the start of the conflict.
Caputova arrived in Kyiv earlier in the day at the invitation of Zelensky.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen addresses the closing press conference of an European Union summit on Ukraine, defense and energy, in Brussels on May 31, 2022. (KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)
Facilitate food exports
In another development, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday that her institution was working hard on building "solidarity lanes" to facilitate food exports from Ukraine, in particular the over 20 million tons of grain blocked in the country's stores.
The European Commission proposed to establish new so-called "solidarity lanes" to ensure that Ukraine can export and import the goods it needs, from humanitarian aid to animal feed and fertilizers, as Ukraine's ports have been blocked due to the conflict in Ukraine
"It is not trivial, and it is, of course, more tedious and expensive, but it is necessary to get this wheat out," she said at the end of a two-day extraordinary summit of EU leaders.
Earlier this month, the Commission proposed to establish new so-called "solidarity lanes" to ensure that Ukraine can export and import the goods it needs, from humanitarian aid to animal feed and fertilizers, as Ukraine's ports have been blocked due to the conflict in Ukraine.
EU leaders have called on Russia to lift the blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports and to allow food exports. Von der Leyen said the EU will also step up its own food production and expects to export a record 40 million tonnes of cereals in 2022 and 2023.
"We call on all partners not to restrict trade on agricultural products. Any kind of trade restrictions have absolutely no place in our member states or globally," she said.
During the summit, EU leaders also reached an agreement on a ban on 90 percent of Russian oil imports to the EU by the end of the year.
Von der Leyen spoke about how the EU was looking for "more reliable suppliers" of gas, noting how liquefied natural gas deliveries from other parts of the world other than Russia doubled in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the previous year.
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She said gas storage across the EU stands at 41 percent of capacity, which is five percentage points higher than they were last year. She said the EU had to make "massive investment in renewables."