Biden tells Zelensky that the United States will give Ukraine more missile launchers

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday promised a new $625 million security aid package to Ukraine, prompting Moscow to warn that such a move risks a direct military confrontation between Russia and the West.

The US package will include the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers used in the successful Ukraine counter-offensive that recently forced Russian forces to retreat.

The White House said in a statement that Biden confirmed in a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Vice President Kamala Harris that Washington will never recognize Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory.

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She added that Biden “pledged to continue supporting Ukraine as it defends itself from Russian aggression for as long as possible.”

The aid package is the first since Russia’s recent annexation of Ukrainian territory and the second presidential withdrawal authority (PDA) since major battlefield gains in Ukraine in mid-September.

In a strongly worded response, the Russian envoy to the United States warned that Biden’s offer fueled the risk of a direct military clash between Russia and the West.

In the Telegram messaging app, Ambassador Anatoly Antonov urged Washington to stop “provocative actions” that could lead to “serious consequences”.

“We consider this a direct threat to the strategic interests of our country,” he said.

The US and Ukrainian flags are photographed before the start of the Ukraine Defense Advisory Group meeting, hosted by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, at the US air base in Ramstein, Germany, April 26, 2022. REUTERS/Kay Pfaffenbach

The annexations announced by Russia last week came in the wake of what it called referendums in the occupied areas of Ukraine. Western governments and Kiev said the vote violated international law and was coercive and unrepresentative.

The State Department said in a statement that the package includes four HIMARS launchers and associated missiles, 32 howitzers with 75,000 rounds of ammunition, 200 Ambush-Protected Vehicles (MRAP), and Claymore antipersonnel mines.

Made by Lockheed Martin (LMT.N)The accuracy of the HIMARS launchers and the longer range allowed Kiev to reduce the advantage of Russian artillery.

“Recent developments from the fake referendums in Russia and the attempted annexation to reveal new atrocities against civilians in the Ukrainian territory formerly controlled by Russia strengthen our resolve,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a statement.

Last week, the United States unveiled a $1.1 billion arms package for Ukraine, which included 18 HIMARS firing systems, accompanying munitions, and various types of UAVs and radar systems.

But last week’s aid package was funded by the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI) which means the government should buy weapons from the industry, rather than withdrawing them from existing US arms stocks.

The United States has now pledged to provide 20 HIMARS launch pads to Ukraine with a personal digital assistant.

This announcement will represent more than $16.8 billion in US security assistance since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

(This story has been paraphrased to correct the punctuation in paragraphs 3,8)

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(Reporting by Nandita Bose and Mike Stone in Washington); Additional reporting by Jyoti Narayan in Bengaluru. Editing by Margherita Choi and Clarence Fernandez

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