Russia inches toward seizing key eastern city
By Dan Bilefsky
As Russian troops edged closer Wednesday to seizing control of the eastern Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk, the United States and Germany pledged more advanced weapons to Ukraine, underscoring Western resolve to hobble President Vladimir Putin’s war effort.
The United States said it would send advanced rocket systems, which can be guided by satellite and will greatly extend the range of Ukraine’s artillery. Meanwhile, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany on Wednesday promised two potentially significant donations: an air-defense system and a tracking radar to help the Ukrainian army locate sources of Russian heavy artillery.
Scholz did not immediately specify delivery timelines. But the move was notable amid criticism of the sluggish pace of German weapons donations and as Germany grapples with the challenge of breaking with decades of pacifist policy.
The buttressing of Ukraine’s weap-onry comes at a critical time. The fall of Sievierodonetsk would give Putin’s forces the last major city in the Luhansk province still in Ukrainian hands.
The city is part of the resource-rich Donbas region on Russia’s border and captur-ing it would bring Russia one step clos-er to its stated aim of seizing Ukraine’s east, where Russia-backed separatists have been fighting since 2014.
A local official said Wednesday that Russian forces controlled about 70% of the city.
But any victory there has come at an enormous cost. Most of the city’s buildings have been pulverized in weeks of Russian missile fire and the vast majority of the city’s prewar popu-lation of 100,000 people have fled.
Writing this week in a guest essay in The New York Times, President Joe Biden appeared to dismiss concerns that the latest U.S. military support could be viewed by Russia as a provo-cation.
“We do not seek a war between NATO and Russia,” Biden wrote. “As much as I disagree with Mr. Putin, and find his actions an outrage, the United States will not try to bring about his ouster in Moscow. We are not encour-aging or enabling Ukraine to strike be-yond its borders.”
In other developments:
— The Russian military’s campaign in eastern Ukraine is repeating mis-takes from its earlier effort to conquer the whole country, senior U.S. officials said.
— Top Biden administration offi-cials warned against proposals to seize Russian central bank assets and use them to fund Ukraine’s reconstruction.
— A top European Union official accused Russia of blocking the ship-ment of 22 million tons of grain in Ukraine, bombarding buildings where wheat is stored and mining crop fields.
— A court in central Ukraine sen-tenced two Russian soldiers to more than 11 years in prison for shelling a town in the country’s northeast, the second guilty verdict handed down by Ukrainian courts for war crimes during the invasion.