‘Pouring fuel on the fire’: Russia’s warning for West

The US and Germany have pledged to equip Ukraine with some of the advanced weapons it has long desired for shooting down aircraft and knocking out artillery, as Russian forces closed in on capturing a key city in the east.

Germany said it will supply Ukraine with up-to-date anti-aircraft missiles and radar systems, while the US announced it will provide four sophisticated, medium-range rocket systems and ammunition.

The US is trying to help Ukraine fend off the Russians without triggering a wider war in Europe. The Pentagon said it received assurances that Ukraine will not fire the new rockets into Russian territory.

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The Kremlin accused the US of "pouring fuel on the fire."

Western arms have been critical to Ukraine's success in stymieing Russia's much larger and better-equipped military, thwarting its effort to storm the capital and forcing Moscow to shift its focus to the industrial Donbas region in the east.

But as Russia bombards towns in its inching advance in the east, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly pleaded for more and better weapons and accused the West of moving too slowly.

The new arms could help Ukraine set up and hold new lines of defence in the east by hitting back at Russian artillery pieces that have been battering towns and cities and by limiting Russian airstrikes.

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Military analysts say Russia is hoping to overrun the Donbas before any weapons that might turn the tide arrive. It will take at least three weeks to get the precision US weapons and trained troops onto the battlefield, the Pentagon said.

But US Defence Undersecretary Colin Kahl said he believes they will arrive in time to make a difference in the fight.

The rocket systems are part of a new US$700 million ($975 million) package of security assistance for Ukraine from the US that also includes helicopters, Javelin anti-tank weapon systems, radars, tactical vehicles, spare parts and more.

The rockets have a range of about 80km and are highly mobile. Ukraine had pushed unsuccessfully for rockets with a range of up to 300km.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow does not trust assurances that Ukraine will not fire on Russian territory. "We believe that the US is deliberately and diligently pouring fuel on the fire," he said.

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Ukraine's push for more weapons is a "direct provocation intended to draw the West into the fighting." He warned that the multiple rocket launchers would raise the risk of an expanded conflict.

"Sane Western politicians understand those risks well," he said.

Germany's promise of IRIS-T air defence systems would mark the first delivery of long-range air defence weapons to Ukraine since the start of the war. Earlier deliveries of portable, shoulder-fired air defence missiles have bolstered the Ukrainian military's ability to take down helicopters and other low-flying aircraft but didn't give it enough range to challenge Russia's air superiority.

Germany has come under particular criticism, both at home and from allies abroad, that it isn't doing enough. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told legislators that the IRIS-T's surface-to-air missiles are the most modern air defence system the country has.

The weapons announcements came as a regional governor said Russian forces now control 80 per cent of Sievierodonetsk, a city that is key to Moscow's efforts to complete its capture of the Donbas, where Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists have fought for years and where the separatists held swaths of territory even before the invasion.

The only other city in Luhansk that the Russians have not yet captured, Lysychansk, is still fully under Ukrainian control, he said, but is likely to be next.

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