Chris Lange, FISM News
The Defense Department on Tuesday announced a new $1.2 billion long-term military aid package to Ukraine, as expected.
The package includes additional air defense systems and munitions, 155mm artillery rounds, and equipment to integrate Western air defense launchers, missiles, and radars with Ukraine’s air defense systems, according to a press release. The package is being funded through a grant from the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.
“This package underscores the continued U.S. commitment to meeting Ukraine’s most urgent requirements by committing critical capabilities — such as air defense systems and munitions — while also building the capacity of Ukraine’s armed forces to defend its territory and deter Russian aggression over the long term,” Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said at a press briefing Tuesday.
The U.S. has provided Ukraine with nearly $37 billion in assistance since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.
WAGNER FORCES PULL OUT OF BAKHMUT
Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin appears to have made good on his threat to pull his forces out of Bakhmut. Prigozhin had previously threatened to abandon the fight in the eastern Ukrainian city amid his ongoing feud with Russia’s military leaders over ammunition and strategy.
USA Today reported on Wednesday that Prigozhin confirmed the withdrawal of Wagner’s 72nd Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, despite a warning from the Kremlin that he and his troops would be labeled as traitors for doing so.
“A combat order came yesterday which clearly stated that if we leave our positions, it will be regarded as treason against the motherland,” he said. “If there is no ammunition, then we will leave our positions and we will be asking who is really betraying the motherland.”
He went on to assign blame to Russian military leaders, whom he accused of deliberately providing insufficient firepower to his troops.
Prigozhin also hinted at significant troop losses in the 10-month battle for Bakhmut. Ukraine’s Third Assault Brigade said in a statement that reports of “the ‘500 corpses’ of Russians who remained there is true.”
The Wagner pullout is another blow to President Vladimir Putin as his military has yet to make significant progress 15 months after he announced a “special military operation” in Ukraine.
EVACUATION OF NUCLEAR PLANT WORKERS RENEWS FEARS OF POTENTIAL CATASTROPHE
Ukraine’s state-owned Energoatom company on Wednesday warned of a “catastrophic lack” of personnel at the endangered Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant amid the evacuation of more than 3,000 workers from the town.
International Atomic Energy Agency chief Raphael Grossi sounded the alarm last week of a “potentially dangerous” situation around the Russian-occupied nuclear station with news of the forced evacuations. The Moscow-installed governor of the Zaporizhzhia region suspended operations at the plant on Monday, according to Russia’s TASS state news agency.
“The Russian occupiers are proving their inability to ensure the operation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, as there is now a catastrophic lack of qualified personnel,” Energoatom said in a statement on the Telegram messaging service.
Grossi has repeatedly called for the establishment of a demilitarized zone around the facility.
EU SANCTIONS PROPOSAL TARGETS BEIJING FOR FIRST TIME
European Union President Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday unveiled a plan for new sanctions against Russia targeting countries that circumvent Western-imposed trade bans already in place, including China. Beijing had previously warned the EU against such action.
Diplomatic sources familiar with the proposal told Reuters that it includes blacklisting “tens” of new companies from China, Iran, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan that have reportedly flouted Western-imposed trade sanctions on Russia.
“If we see that goods are going from the European Union to third countries and then end up in Russia, we could propose to the member states to sanction those goods’ exports,” von Der Leyen said, adding: “This tool will be a last resort and it will be used cautiously.”
The new sanctions would also prohibit oil tankers from offloading in high seas or arriving in ports with their GPS trackers turned off – methods that have been used to circumvent G7 restrictions on trading Russian oil.
Von der Leyen said that the EU worked “in very close coordination” with G7 nations on the new sanctions.
All 27 EU countries must agree on the proposal, something unlikely to happen in the near future. Reuters’ sources said some member nations have argued that the sanctions don’t go far enough while others assert that they will damage international ties.