The United States announced $100 million in military aid for Ukraine as NATO foreign ministers gathered in Brussels for two days of talks about the conflict in Ukraine.
“The world has been shocked and appalled by the atrocities committed by Russia’s forces in Bucha and across Ukraine,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement late Tuesday announcing his authorization of the aid.
“Ukraine’s forces bravely continue to defend their country and their freedom, and the United States, along with our Allies and partners, stand steadfast in support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the assistance would “meet an urgent Ukrainian need for additional Javelin anti-armor systems, which the United States has been providing to Ukraine and they have been using so effectively to defend their country.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters ahead of the meetings that alliance members “are determined to provide further support to Ukraine,” including humanitarian and financial aid in addition to military equipment and cybersecurity assistance.
“I expect we will also decide to do more for NATO’s other partners, which are vulnerable to Russian threats and interference, including Georgia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Stoltenberg said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba is scheduled to address the ministerial on Thursday.
Britain’s defense ministry said Wednesday there was heavy fighting in the city of Mariupol in addition to Russian airstrikes on the encircled city where the humanitarian situation is “worsening.”
“Most of the 160,000 remaining residents have no light, communication, medicine, heat, or water. Russian forces have prevented humanitarian access, likely to pressure defenders to surrender,” the ministry said.
Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Ukraine would try to help trapped civilians escape through 11 different humanitarian corridors Wednesday, but that those in Mariupol would have to do so in their own vehicles.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address late Tuesday that he had discussed with Western leaders a new round of sanctions against Russia.
“After what the world saw in Bucha, the sanctions against Russia must be commensurate with the gravity of the war crimes committed by the occupiers,” he said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said new U.S. sanctions would be announced Wednesday.
Psaki said the United States is coordinating with the G-7 and European Union on sanctions that would send Russia “further down the road of economic, financial and technological isolation.”
“This will include a ban on all new investment in Russia and increased sanctions on financial institutions and state-owned enterprises in Russia and sanctions on Russian government officials and their family members,” she said.
European Council President Charles Michel said Wednesday that a new EU package would include a ban on coal imports.
“And I think that measures on oil, and even gas, will also be needed sooner or later,” he said.
Europe’s reliance on Russian energy supplies has made leaders reluctant to enact widespread bans, while critics of that approach, including Zelenskyy, have argued such measures are needed to pressure Russia to halt its invasion of Ukraine.
Zelenskyy admonished the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday for its inaction in stopping Russia and called for Moscow to face accountability for crimes it has carried out there.
“We are dealing with a state that is turning the U.N. Security Council veto into the right to die,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said of Russia, which has used its veto to block any action in the council. “This undermines the whole architecture of global security. It allows them to go unpunished, so, they are destroying everything they can.”
The president spoke in Ukrainian to the 15-nation council via a video link for about 15 minutes. He wore his now trademark army green shirt, and a Ukrainian flag was visible over his right shoulder.
He spoke just days after Russian troops withdrew from Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, where residents and local officials reported more than 300 civilians had been killed by Russian troops during the town’s occupation. Moscow has denied any involvement and blamed Ukrainian “radicals.”
“Are you ready to close the U.N.? Do you think that the time of international law is gone?” Zelenskyy asked. “If your answer is no, then you need to act immediately. The U.N. Charter must be restored immediately.”
He said there must also be accountability for the atrocities committed against his people.
“The Russian military and those who gave them orders must be brought to justice immediately for war crimes in Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said, a day after U.S. President Joe Biden asserted that Russian leader Vladimir Putin should face a war crimes trial.
Zelenskyy also showed diplomats a short but brutally graphic video of dead bodies in several Ukrainian cities, including Bucha. Many were burned and charred beyond recognition; some had their hands tied behind their backs. Most lay in the street or in piles. The remains of at least one child were among the corpses. A mass grave was also shown. Ukraine’s U.N. envoy watched the video with tears in his eyes.
Russia’s U.N. envoy dismissed the video and Ukrainian claims that Russia has committed atrocities, even acknowledging the Russian military’s difficulties in advancing through the country, claiming it was to spare civilian casualties
“Today, we have heard once again a huge amount of lies about Russian soldiers and military,” Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council.
He said hundreds of people were ready to testify to the cruelty of Ukrainian Nazis and radicals, whom he blamed for atrocities, and read fragments of their alleged statements. He repeated the Russian defense that all accusations are part of a propaganda war against Moscow, saying “the only ones who would fall for this are Western dilettantes.”
U.S. envoy Linda Thomas-Greenfield made a quick trip to Moldova and Romania over the weekend to meet with Ukrainian refugees, who she said, “stuffed their lives into backpacks and left the only home they had ever known.”
She said the United States is studying the pictures emerging from Bucha.
“As we work to independently confirm the events depicted in these images, I would remind this council that based on the currently available information, the United States has assessed that members of Russia’s forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also participated in Tuesday’s meeting. He appealed for the war to stop “now.”
He called Monday for an independent investigation into the killing of civilians in Bucha.
Last week, the U.N. chief said he would explore possibilities for a humanitarian cease-fire and sent his humanitarian chief, Martin Griffiths, to Moscow. Griffiths will travel to Kyiv on Wednesday. Since the war started on February 24, the United Nations has been able to successfully get only four aid convoys into Ukraine. The fourth arrived Tuesday in Sievierodonetsk in the country’s far east.
Griffiths spoke to the council from Geneva. He said he had “frank exchanges” with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, his deputy, and separately with the deputy defense minister.
“I outlined possibilities for building on this cooperation, sharing specific suggestions for mutually agreed upon military freezes to allow for evacuations of civilians and for the safe passage of life-saving aid,” he said.
He said he came away from the meetings believing “we have a long road ahead of us, but it must be traveled.”
The U.N. has verified the deaths of at least 1,480 civilians, including more than 121 children, and said the real number is likely much higher. More than 10 million people have been displaced in less than six weeks of conflict. More than 4.2 million of them are now refugees.