SEOUL, South Korea — President Biden on Saturday signed a $40 billion package of new military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, further deepening his administration’s commitment amid signs that the United States and its allies are preparing for a longer conflict.

The package includes $20 billion in additional military aid to finance the transfer of advanced weapons systems – aid that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said was “needed more than ever.”

Russia is continuing intense shelling of the easternmost city under Ukraine’s control, Severodonetsk, which looks set to be the war’s next major battlefield. With fighting underway on the city outskirts, Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai said that “the Russians are destroying Severodonetsk, like Mariupol.” Six civilians were killed Friday during Russian bombardments, he said.

The assault comes as Russia claims full control of the Azovstal steel plant, the sprawling complex that had been the final battleground for control of Mariupol. Russia’s Defense Ministry said 2,439 Ukrainian fighters there have surrendered in recent days – a figure that drastically exceeds other estimates. Ukraine has not confirmed Moscow’s claims that the entire facility is now in Russian hands.

Outside Ukraine, the war’s far-reaching diplomatic and economic impacts continue to be felt. Finland’s gas transmission network operator said Saturday that Russia had stopped shipping natural gas to it. The suspension is widely viewed as retaliation after Helsinki formally applied to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said Saturday that he had an “open and direct phone call” with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about Finland’s NATO application, which Turkey has sought to block.

Niinisto said he told Erdogan that Finland and Turkey would protect each other’s security as NATO allies and have a closer relationship. Finland also “condemns terrorism,” Niinisto said he told Erdogan.

“Close dialogue continues,” the Finnish president wrote.

Ukraine Russia Mariupol

Ukrainian servicemen sit on a bus after leaving Mariupol’s besieged Azovstal steel plant, near a penal colony, in Olyonivka, in territory under the government of the Donetsk People’s Republic, eastern Ukraine, on Friday.

Erdogan has voiced concerns about Finland and Sweden joining NATO, among them that they give safe harbor to terrorists, apparently referring to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has fought a separatist insurgency in parts of Turkey for decades.

The United States has also designated the PKK a terrorist organization, but has worked with other Kurdish groups fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Admitting Finland to NATO requires the approval of all 30 member states, so Turkey could stop the Nordic nation’s accession.

In other developments:

Russia has prevented the evacuation of children, the sick and the elderly from the southern Kherson region to Ukrainian-held territory, a Ukrainian military spokesman said Saturday.

In an update posted on Facebook, Oleksandr Shtupun said Russian forces were also stopping the entry of food and medicine to the area.

The region’s capital, also called Kherson, was the first major city to fall to Russian forces after the Feb. 24 invasion. The region’s Russian-installed administration later said it intends to ask Moscow to incorporate the Kherson region into the Russian Federation.

The Ukrainian military spokesman’s update also said that Russia began efforts to restore the port, notably by demining infrastructure, after Russian authorities declared Friday that they had taken “full control” of Mariupol’s embattled steel plant.

The complex had been the last remaining stronghold of Ukrainian soldiers in the southeastern city, which lies on the Sea of Azov.

 Ukrainian prosecutors have identified another Russian soldier who they allege was responsible for the death of Ukrainian citizens during the siege of the Kyiv region.

A 30-year-old commander of Russia’s 64th Motorized Rifle Brigade ordered his soldiers to kill civilians in the village of Lypivka, west of Bucha, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Iryna Venediktova, posted Friday on Facebook. She named him as Vasyl Lytvynenko and called him “responsible for violations of the laws and customs of war, as well as murder.”

The announcement came a day after the first Russian soldier to be put on trial for war crimes since the invasion, 21-year-old Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin, apologized in court to the widow of the 62-year-old civilian he admitted killing. Ukrainian prosecutors investigating the atrocities allegedly committed by Russian forces during the occupation of the Kyiv region say they plan to put captured soldiers on trial for war crimes despite limitations such as the difficulty of finding and collecting evidence amid a war.

Venediktova described how village residents had to get permission from Lytvynenko to take medication and leave their homes for water during the Russian occupation. The prosecutor general also said Lytvynenko ordered his soldiers to wound an unarmed, elderly civilian in his own yard, shoot at the man’s home with tank artillery and then set it ablaze.

The investigation is ongoing, Venediktova said, as prosecutors try to determine who else played a role in the crimes, as well as Lytvynenko’s alleged involvement in injuring two other people and destroying 18 homes.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is sounding an alarm about the ongoing global food crisis.

“I can tell you on a scale of 1 to 10, I’m probably at the 10 level of alarm, because this crisis has exacerbated what is already a serious food insecurity issue,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the BBC World Service on Friday.

The pandemic and climate change were already having a negative impact on global food supplies, she said, but the Russian invasion and its blockade of Ukrainian ports “exacerbated this situation and made it even more dire, and the impact is being felt across the world.”

Thomas-Greenfield said the United States plans to maintain pressure on Moscow to end the war. She denied that any discussions have been held on lifting sanctions in return for Russia easing the blockade on food supplies, stressing that no sanctions have targeted food production. She also urged other nations not to restrict food exports.

Last week, India, the world’s second-largest wheat producer, banned exports of the grain, citing its own food security needs amid soaring global prices.

The World Food Program has warned of “catastrophic” consequences if Ukrainian ports remain blocked, with many countries in the Middle East and Africa reliant on Ukrainian and Russian grains.

The Russian military risks weakening its operational effectiveness if it continues to lose reconnaissance drones at the current rate, the British Defense Ministry said in a Saturday intelligence update.

Russian and Ukrainian forces have relied heavily on drones in the war, and attrition of this equipment has been heavy on both sides. For Russia, the devices identify battlefield targets that are then bombed by Russian jets or artillery – a maneuver that was tested in Syria, the ministry said.

But Russia will likely find it difficult to restock the drones, given the impact of sanctions on its domestic manufacturers, the ministry warned, and a shortage would degrade its ability to gather intelligence and conduct surveillance. Ukraine’s intact air-defense missile systems have also managed to deter Russian aircraft from conducting sorties over Ukrainian-held territory, it added.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: