Ukraine encircling Russian troops as US promises more aid
By Stefan J. Bos
Soldiers raised the Ukrainian flag at the eastern town of Lyman's entrance as Russian forces began withdrawing. Kyiv said it had now encircled the city where Russia's forces totaled about 5,000 to 5,500 soldiers.
But the Ukrainian military says the number of encircled Russian troops may have fallen because of casualties and some soldiers trying to break out of the encirclement.
Their approach underscored Kyiv's pledge never to accept Russia's annexation on Friday of four occupied regions Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk.
And the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive, seven long months after the Russian invasion began, is backed by weapons from several Western countries, including the United States.
On Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky praised his US counterpart, Joe Biden, for signing an additional $12.3 billion package to support his nation.
Military sources say the package includes weapon deliveries to Kyiv and provides assistance for a potential nuclear incident in Europe.
Separately, the World Bank said it would provide an additional $530 million in support to Ukraine, bringing the total aid by the bank to $13 billion. Britain supports the help with $500 million, and Denmark provides $30 million.
Besides signing the US package, President Biden condemned Russia's annexation of Ukrainian territories following sham referendums. And Biden made clear that the US-led NATO military alliance will not be intimidated after Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to make a veiled threat to use nuclear weapons to defend those regions.
"America's fully prepared with our NATO allies to defend every single inch of NATO territory. Every single inch," President Biden stressed at the White House. "So, Mr. Putin, don't misunderstand what I'm saying. Every inch," Biden added after Ukrainian President Zelenskyy said his nation is submitting an "accelerated" application to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization military alliance.
"America and its allies are not going, let me emphasize this, are not going to be intimidated by Putin and his reckless words and threats," Biden said. "In response to Russia's phony claims of annexation, the United States, together with our Allies and partners, are announcing new sanctions today. These sanctions will impose costs on individuals and entities — inside and outside of Russia — that provide political or economic support to illegal attempts to change the status of Ukrainian territory," he explained.
NATO member state Turkey, which has been at the center of mediation between the West and Russia, also rejected Russia's annexation of Ukrainian territories calling the decision a "grave violation" of international law.
Renewed concerns over nuclear power plant
It came amid more tensions on the ground, with the United Nations nuclear watchdog requesting clarifications from Russian authorities after the director-general of the Zaporizhzhia atomic power plant was detained.
Ukraine says Russia is trying to transfer what is Europe's largest nuclear power plant to the Russian energy firm Rosatom, despite security concerns.
Amid worries about a possible nuclear confrontation, people also tried to mourn on Saturday the dozens of people killed in a conventional Russian strike on a humanitarian convoy near the city of Zaporizhzhia, not far from the nuclear plant.
The convoy was on its way to rescue people seeking to flee the Russian-occupied territories in this rapidly escalating armed conflict.
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