Western allies pledge precision rockets, missile systems to Kyiv
The US announces a new $2.2bn package of arms and munitions for Ukraine, including a rocket-propelled precision bomb.
Western allies have pledged precision rockets and missile systems to Ukraine after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for sophisticated weapons to help retain control of the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut.
The European Union also agreed to introduce price caps on Russian petroleum products to try further limit Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war chest by targeting his key exports.
The announcements on Friday came shortly after Zelenskyy told a summit with EU leaders in Kyiv: “No one will surrender Bakhmut. We will fight as long as we can.
“If weapon (deliveries) are accelerated – namely long-range weapons – we will not only not withdraw from Bakhmut, we will begin to de-occupy Donbas,” he said of the region in eastern Ukraine.
The United States announced a new $2.2bn package of arms and munitions, which the Pentagon said included a new rocket-propelled precision bomb that could nearly double Ukraine’s strike range against Russian forces.
The ground-launched small-diameter bombs (GLSDB), which can fly up to 150 kilometres (93 miles), could threaten key Russian supply lines, arms depots and air bases far behind the front lines.
Ukraine had been asking Washington for munitions that can fly farther than the HIMARS rockets, which have an 80km range.
The GLSDBs potentially give Kyiv’s forces the ability to strike anywhere in the partly Russian-occupied Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia and Kherson regions, and the northern part of occupied Crimea.
The French defence ministry said France and Italy would deliver mobile surface-to-air missile systems in response to an urgent request from Kyiv to help protect “civilian populations and infrastructure from Russian air attacks”.
The systems, called MAMBA or SAMP, are a vehicle-mounted battery of medium-range missiles designed to offer protection from airborne threats such as missiles and crewed or uncrewed aircraft.
Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said the weapons would “help us save thousands of lives” from Russian attacks.
Kyiv is also asking for fighter jets.
It has already secured promises from the West for deliveries of modern battle tanks and, after months of hesitation, Germany authorised the delivery of Leopard 1 tanks.
Russian oil products price cap
In Brussels, EU countries agreed to cap the price of Russian refined oil products to accompany an embargo on ship deliveries of the products that comes into force on Sunday.
“EU ambassadors today approved the price caps on petroleum products ahead of final adoption by the European Council (representing EU member states),” the Swedish presidency of the European Union wrote on Twitter on Friday.
The EU in December imposed an embargo on Russian crude oil coming in by sea and – together with its G7 partners – set a $60-per-barrel cap for exports around the world.
The second EU-wide embargo, on Russian fuel, is set to come into force on Sunday. It will target Russian refined oil products such as petrol, diesel and heating fuel arriving on ships.
At the same time, the EU and the G7 group of wealthy democracies have also agreed to impose a price cap on Russian shipments of those products to global markets.
The price caps work by establishing a ceiling for the cost of fuel that can be transported on EU ships.
The Swedish EU presidency said the price caps were an “important agreement as part of the continued response by EU and partners to the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine”.
It did not detail the price cap levels for different petroleum products.
The Reuters news agency cited EU diplomats saying the price caps agreed to were $100 per barrel on products that trade at a premium to crude, such as diesel, and $45 per barrel for products that trade at a discount, such as fuel oil. The proposal was that they apply from Sunday.
Poland and Baltic states Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia had pushed for the caps to be set at lower levels to curb Russia’s revenues from fuel, diplomats had said, dragging on talks for days.
Setting the levels is a sensitive issue as the West does not want to cut off Russian supplies to world markets entirely and send global prices soaring.
The Kremlin lashed out at the EU in advance of the embargo coming into force, insisting it will “lead to a further imbalance of the international energy markets”.
“We are taking measures to hedge our interests against the risks associated,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Moscow’s war in Ukraine has provided a harsh wake-up call for the EU, which for years had been reliant on cheap fossil fuels from Russia to power its industries.
Brussels says the embargo on crude oil has seen the bloc cut out some 90 percent of Russian imports, after exceptions were granted for supplies flowing by pipeline to landlocked countries like Hungary.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday estimated during a visit to Kyiv that the existing price cap on Russian oil was already costing Moscow approximately 160 million euros ($175m) every day.