U.S. war aid of $400M allots bridge-launchers

WASHINGTON — The U.S. announced a new $400 million military aid package for Ukraine on Friday that for the first time includes armored vehicles that can launch bridges — allowing troops to cross rivers or other gaps as Russian and Ukrainian forces remain entrenched on opposite sides of the Dnieper River.

The war had largely slowed to a grinding stalemate during the winter months, with Russia and Ukraine firing at each other from across the river. Both sides are expected to launch offensives as temperatures rise.

This round of aid will be drawn from existing U.S. weapons stockpiles so it can arrive in Ukraine faster. The U.S. and allies are trying to rush additional support to Kyiv to best position it for intensified spring fighting.

The Armored Vehicle Launched Bridge is a portable, 60-foot folding metal bridge that is carried on top of a tank body. Providing that system now could make it easier for Ukrainian troops to cross rivers to get to Russian forces.

Because Ukraine also continues to face shortages of ammunition in the intense firefight, this aid package, like previous ones, includes thousands of replacement rounds, such as rockets for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems and 155mm Howitzer rounds. This package also includes demolition munitions and equipment for clearing obstacles to help Ukraine break through dug-in lines.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago, the U.S. has sent in more than $32 billion in weapons and equipment.

The U.S. is also roughly tripling the number of Ukrainian forces it is training on advanced battle tactics at a base in Germany, to help them punch through entrenched Russian lines. At the Grafenwoehr training area, Ukrainian forces run through a five-week course that prepares them to conduct advanced combined arms maneuvers with Bradley Fighting Vehicles, M109 Paladins and Stryker armored personnel carriers. The first 600 Ukrainian troops completed the course last month and 1,600 more are in training.

The aid will also include spare parts and equipment for vehicle maintenance and repair.

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The announcement comes on the heels of a brief meeting Thursday between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a gathering of top diplomats from the Group of 20 nations in New Delhi. It was the highest-level in-person talk between the two countries since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But there was no indication of any movement toward easing the intense tensions between the two nations.

Blinken said he told Lavrov the U.S. would continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes.

Lavrov, who did not mention speaking with Blinken when he held a news conference after the meeting, told reporters Moscow would continue to press its action in Ukraine.


President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met privately in the Oval Office for more than an hour Friday after declaring themselves in “lockstep” on maintaining pressure on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Even their top advisers were left out of the conversation. When the meeting ended, Biden and Scholz walked across the hall to the Roosevelt Room, where the American and German officials had been mingling. Biden joked that the two leaders had solved all the world’s problems by themselves, according to a senior administration official, who requested anonymity to describe the private discussions.

If any agreements were reached or plans made, the White House wasn’t saying. The official readout of the meeting provided little additional detail, except to say the two leaders discussed the war and “exchanged perspectives on other global issues.”

Ukraine and Russia are preparing for spring offensives, meaning a steady flow of Western weapons will be important for Kyiv’s success on the battlefield.

However, there are fresh concerns that public support for ongoing military assistance may be waning. In addition, U.S. officials have warned that China could step off the sidelines and begin providing ammunition to Moscow, a decision that would change the trajectory of the war by allowing Moscow to replenish its depleted stockpiles.

China is Germany’s top trading partner, and European nations have generally been more cautious than the United States in taking a hard line with Beijing. However, there are signs that may be shifting as global rivalries grow more tense.

In a speech to the German parliament on Thursday, Scholz called on China to “use your influence in Moscow to press for the withdrawal of Russian troops, and do not supply weapons to the aggressor Russia.”

During brief public remarks Friday, Scholz said Western allies would support Ukraine for “as long as it takes.”

“This is a very, very important year because of the dangerous threat to peace that comes from Russia invading Ukraine,” he said.

Biden thanked Germany for providing “critical military support.”

“And I would argue, beyond the military support, the moral support you’ve given Ukrainians has been profound,” he said.

Biden said, “Together, we worked lockstep to supply critical security assistance to Ukraine,” and Scholz also described the U.S.-German effort as “lockstep.”


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met Friday with U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and top European legal officials, and called for Russia to face international prosecution for war crimes.

Zelenskyy announced the meetings in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, hundreds of miles from the war’s front lines, during his evening video address to the nation.

“We are doing everything to ensure that the International Criminal Court is successful in punishing Russian war criminals,” Zelenskyy said.

“The main issue of all these meetings and the Lviv conference is accountability,” he added. “The accountability of Russia and its leadership is personal, for aggression and terror against our state and people.”

Zelenskyy said over 70,000 Russian war crimes have been recorded so far.

“But, unfortunately, we do not know about all crimes at the moment,” he added. “A large part of our territory still remains occupied and we cannot currently reliably predict how many Russian crimes we would discover after the occupiers are expelled.”

Along with Garland, other participants at the conference included U.K. Attorney General Victoria Prentis, Spanish Attorney General Alvaro Garcia Ortiz and European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders.

Meanwhile at the United Nations, deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said U.N. humanitarian staffers are reporting “intensive hostilities” near the beleaguered Ukrainian town of Bakhmut and say the U.N.’s few humanitarian partners on the ground are focusing on evacuating the most vulnerable people from the conflict area.

Bakhmut has been the focus of intense fighting for months, with Russian troops and large forces from the private Wagner Group inching ever closer to the largely destroyed town.


The commander of Ukraine’s ground forces visited soldiers in Bakhmut for the second time in less than a week.

Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky said that Russia is throwing “the most prepared units” into the fight for the city and that he was assessing “problematic issues related to increasing the defense capability of our units on the front line.”

Russia launched its offensive to take Bakhmut over the summer, and the fighting has rarely relented. Though Ukraine has put up a stiff defense, in recent weeks Moscow’s forces have made gains that put crucial roads in and out of the city in jeopardy.

Even though it has limited strategic value, the small city in eastern Ukraine has taken on enormous symbolic importance to both sides. Thousands of soldiers have died in a protracted artillery battle that has reduced most of the buildings to rubble and forced all but a few thousand of the residents to flee.

There are three main arteries that provide lifelines for thousands of Ukrainian soldiers fighting in and around the city. Russian forces have been working to cut them off and are closing in on the last road, according to soldiers and volunteers who regularly used the roads.

The challenge for Ukrainian commanders at the moment is ensuring that if a withdrawal is necessary they execute it at the right time, minimizing losses after holding out for as long as they could. The gravest risk for Ukrainian forces is that they would be encircled, trapped and killed in large numbers.

A more immediate risk is that Russia will make it impossible to resupply the Ukrainian fighters in and around Bakhmut. On Friday, Volodymyr Nazarenko, a deputy commander in Ukraine’s national guard, said soldiers defending the critical southern supply line “stand firm.”

If that changes — which it could any day, in either direction — then the calculations of Ukraine’s military and political leaders would also likely shift.

The information campaign around the battle has also intensified, with Russia portraying the city as on the verge of capture. Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, Hanna Maliar, said in a statement Thursday that Russia was “spreading the narratives that are intended to demoralize the Ukrainian military and society.”

Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner mercenary force that has helped lead Russia’s assault on Bakhmut, released a video Friday saying that the Ukrainians had only one road left to escape the city and urged Zelenskyy to order a withdrawal.

“The pincers are closing,” he said.

It was not the first time that Prigozhin has made bold proclamations, many of which have proved to be false. Still, the precariousness of the Ukrainian grip on Bakhmut has been evident for weeks.

The commander of a Ukrainian drone unit, who goes by the call sign Magyar and has offered frequent updates from inside Bakhmut, said in a video message Thursday that it was “getting harder and harder” to hold the town. On Friday, he posted a video saying his unit had been ordered to withdraw from the city to another position. He offered no other details.

Other units were also reported to be pulling out of the city, although it was unclear whether the movements were part of the normal rotation of tired troops or part of a tactical retreat.

“Our unit was withdrawn to regroup,” Denys Yaroslavskyi, a Ukrainian commander of a unit in Bakhmut, said Friday in an interview with Ukrainian broadcaster Espresso. “Since the morning, the situation has been very difficult.”


Serbia on Friday denied it has exported arms to Ukraine after Moscow demanded to know if its Balkan ally delivered thousands of rockets for Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s invasion.

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said that since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, no weapons have been exported from Serbia to any of the parties to the “conflict.”

“I can say that because my ministry gives the permission for [arms] exports,” Dacic said. “Serbia does not deliver military equipment to any country that we believe would be problematic in any way.”

Russia on Thursday demanded an official explanation from Serbia about reports that the Balkan country has delivered thousands of rockets to Ukraine.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova expressed “deepest concern” about the reports, which first came from pro-government Russian media last month.

“We are following this story,” Zakharova said in a statement posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry website late Thursday. She added that the possible arming of Ukraine represented a “serious question” for Serbian-Russian relations.

The media reports said a Serbian state arms factory recently delivered some 3,500 missiles for the Grad multiple rocket launchers used by both the Ukrainian and Russian armed forces. The 122mm rockets were allegedly transported to Ukraine via Turkey and Slovakia.

Serbian Defense Minister Milos Vucevic has denied the country exported the missiles to Ukraine but left open the possibility they could have gotten there via a third party.

“If private companies buy weapons in third states’ markets and then sell them to other companies in other countries, that is not a question for Serbia, that is international trade,” he said.

Serbia is Moscow’s closest ally in Europe, with historic, religious and cultural ties that are bolstered by decades of pro-Russian propaganda campaigns in the Balkan country.

Russia backs Serbia’s claim over its former province of Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008 with Western support. And Serbia has refused to impose sanctions on Moscow over the invasion.

Western officials fear Russia could use simmering tensions in Kosovo to try to destabilize the Balkans and avert some attention from the invasion of Ukraine.

Information for this article was contributed by Tara Copp, Chris Megerian, Frank Jordans and staff members of The Associated Press and Marc Santora and Natalia Yermak of The New York Times.

  photo  Ukrainian servicemen attend combat training in Kyiv region, Ukraine, Friday, March. 3, 2023. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
  photo  Ukrainian State Emergency Service firefighters inspect a damaged house Friday in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, after a Russian bombardment. (AP/Andriy Andriyenko)
  photo  Ukrainian soldiers undergo combat training Friday near Kyiv. (AP/Efrem Lukatsky)