Russia’s reckless shelling of cities and towns across eastern Ukraine will require western nations to intensify their support of the Ukrainian government and military, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Wednesday.

Shortly after those remarks, President Joe Biden backed that up by announcing the U.S. would contribute an additional $1 billion in security assistance and $225 million in humanitarian aid following a phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Austin, speaking at NATO headquarters in Brussels, noted that the U.S. and its allies recently provided long-range rocket-assisted artillery. Those weapons nearly double the range of conventional artillery howitzers that have also been sent to the front lines.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted this week that Kyiv is desperately in need of 1,000 155 mm howitzers, 300 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS), 500 tanks, 2,000 armored vehicles and 1,000 drones.

The request for more firepower comes amid revelations that Moscow could be increasing its own defense spending by 20% to combat a war that shows no signs of ending soon.

“Russia is using its long-range fires to try to overwhelm Ukrainian positions, and Russia continues to indiscriminately bombard Ukraine’s sovereign territory and recklessly endanger Ukrainian civilians,” Austin said. “So we must intensify our shared commitment to Ukraine’s self-defense.”

Latest developments

►Russia’s state-controlled energy giant Gazprom’s announcement that it would reduce natural gas flows through a key European pipeline by roughly 40% appears to be a political move rather than a result of technical problems, Germany’s vice chancellor said Wednesday.

►A Moscow court extended the detention of WNBA star Brittney Griner through at least July 2, Russian state-run news agency TASS reported Tuesday. Griner has been in custody since Feb. 17, accused of bringing vape cartridges containing cannabis oil into the country. The U.S. Department of State considers her wrongfully detained.

►Russia banned dozens of British media and defense figures from entering the country in response to what the country’s foreign ministry alleged was the British media’s skewed portrayal of Moscow and its actions in Ukraine.

Biden announces new Ukraine aid: ‘We will not waver in our commitment’

President Joe Biden said he told his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a Wednesday phone call that the U.S. remains committed to helping the Ukrainians fight off the Russian invasion, adding $1 billion in military aid and $225 million in humanitarian assistance to previous U.S. support.

Biden said the new package includes more artillery and coastal defense weapons, along with ammunition to boost Ukrainian efforts to defend the Donbas region in the east from a concerted Russian attack. Biden also pointed out Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is coordinating increased international support during his trip to Brussels.

“The bravery, resilience, and determination of the Ukrainian people continues to inspire the world,” Biden said in a statement. “And the United States, together with our allies and partners, will not waver in our commitment to the Ukrainian people as they fight for their freedom.”

Almost two-thirds of Ukrainian children have fled their homes: UNICEF

Nearly two-thirds of Ukraine’s children have fled their homes, with families sometimes leaving behind fathers to fight the war, UNICEF says. Some of the families have moved to western Ukraine, which has been relatively calm, while others have fled across the border into Poland or other nations. The trauma and fear can have long-lasting effects on children’s physical and mental health, said Afshan Khan, UNICEF’s Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia.

“Children forced to leave homes, friends, toys and treasured belongings, family members and facing uncertainty about the future,” Khan said. “This instability is robbing children of their futures.”

Russian forces have indiscriminately bombed Ukraine cities, sometimes cutting off humanitarian evacuation corridors. The result: At least 277 child deaths and another 456 have been injured.

“This use of explosive weapons in populated areas and attacks on civilian infrastructure must stop,” Khan said. “It is killing and maiming children and preventing them returning to any kind of normal life in the towns and cities that are their homes.”

Global defense ministers meet to support Ukraine

The Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting today, led by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, is bringing together dozens of global of defense ministers trying to “identify and examine the next steps needed to help Ukraine defend itself from Russian aggression,” the State Department says. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said Ukraine uses 5,000 to 6,000 artillery rounds a day – and that Russia uses 10 times more.

“No matter how much effort Ukraine makes, no matter how professional our army, without the help of Western partners we will not be able to win this war,” Malyar said in a televised news conference.

It appears Russia will significantly boost its military budget to continue its slow but steady attack on the Donbas: British defense officials said Russian defense spending could increase by 12 billion U.S. dollars — approaching a 20% increase in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s defense budget.

The British Defense Ministry said Russia is allowing the country’s defense industrial base “to be slowly mobilized to meet demands placed on it by the war in Ukraine. However, the industry could struggle to meet many of these requirements, partially due to the effects of sanctions and lack of expertise.”

Ikea to sell factories in Russia, keep stores shut

Global furniture giant Ikea said Wednesday that it will sell its four factories in Russia and liquidate inventory in its 17 stores due to supply chain issues and the war in Ukraine. The company, which paused operations in Russia a week after the invasion, said it would be sharply reducing its workforce. The Swedish-founded company said it will continue paying employees until the end of August. Ikea also paused operations in Belarus, Russia’s neighbor and strongest ally.

“The war in Ukraine … is a human tragedy that is continuing to affect people and communities,” Ikea said in a statement on its website. “Businesses and supply chains across the world have been heavily impacted and we do not see that it is possible to resume operations any time soon.”

‘We are not terrorists’: Zelenskyy won’t fire missiles at Russian cities

Ukraine won’t use any long-range missile systems the West might provide to strike  civilian neighborhoods in Russia, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

Zelenskyy spoke remotely to Danish media on the eve of a meeting of global defense ministers in Brussels that could determine the heft and amount of weaponry supporting nations will provide Ukraine’s out-gunned but unwavering military. Ukrainian cities have been pounded from a distance by long-range Russian weapons his military can’t reach.

“We are not interested in shelling civilians, we are not terrorists,” Zelenskyy said. “We need the right weapons … that work at such a distance.”

Zelenskyy said he was willing to hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, with or without mediators, on ending the war and withdrawing Russian troops from Ukrainian territory.

“Only President Putin decides whether the Russian army will stop or not,” Zelenskyy said. “In Russia, there is one person who decides absolutely everything for the citizens of Russia and for the Russian military.”

Contributing: The Associated Press

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