The United States will send $725 million in military assistance to Ukraine, the White House said Friday, the latest U.S. security package to help Kyiv and the first since Russia’s widespread missile attacks on Ukraine’s civilian population.
U.S. officials said the aid package does not include significant new capabilities or counterair defenses. Instead, it focuses on resupplying Ukraine with ammunition and weapons that Kyiv has been successfully using in its counteroffensive against Russia.
“The capabilities we are delivering are carefully calibrated to make the most difference on the battlefield for Ukraine,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Friday.
Russian forces continued to bombard Ukrainian cities Friday, launching at least four missile strikes on Kharkiv, the second-largest city, as Ukraine fought back by firing artillery inside Russia and hitting an ammunition depot.
Multiple explosions were reported Friday at the facility in the Belgorod region of Russia. The regional governor announced the attack on the social media site Telegram. Ukrainian officials have not claimed responsibility for the attack.
The fighting in Ukraine comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin defended recent moves to escalate the war by deploying more troops in the country.
Putin said Friday there was no need for massive new strikes on Ukraine and that Russia was not looking to destroy the country. At the same time, the Russian leader maintained he had “no regrets” about the war in Ukraine and the recent mobilization of 222,000 Russians reservists to fight in the conflict.
At a news conference Friday in Astana, Kazakhstan, Putin said Russia should be finished calling up reservists in two weeks. The Russian Defense Ministry set a goal last month of mobilizing 300,000 reservists, sparking opposition in Russia and leading to tens of thousands of men leaving the country.
Putin said 33,000 of the new recruits have joined military units, and 16,000 are deployed for combat.
Russian media reported at least seven deaths among the recently drafted recruits. The casualties come as Russia’s Defense Ministry faces criticism from prominent pro-war Russian military analysts for deploying untrained recruits into combat.
Despite the rising death toll, Putin told reporters his actions to launch what he calls a military offensive in Ukraine was “timely and right.”
Hours before Putin spoke, Russian missiles and drones targeted more Ukrainian cities and towns for a fourth consecutive day. At least five people in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv were killed, officials said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly address on Friday that Russia was in an “atmosphere of hopelessness.”
“Yes, they still have people to throw on the battlefield, they have weapons, missiles and ‘shaheds’ [Iranian drones], which they use against Ukraine.”
But despite its resources, “Russia is already in the atmosphere of its defeat, already in the atmosphere of hopelessness for itself,” Zelenskyy said, and Moscow has no chance to win because “Ukraine is moving forward.”
On the battlefield, Ukraine’s military said it had recaptured more than 600 settlements from Russian forces over the past month, according to the country’s Ministry for Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories.
About 500 settlements have been liberated in the northeast Kharkiv region, where Ukrainian forces last month advanced deep behind Russian lines, and 75 localities were recaptured in the highly strategic Kherson region, the ministry said late Thursday.
The ministry said 43 settlements were liberated in the Donetsk region and seven in the Luhansk region.
“The area of liberated Ukrainian territories has increased significantly,” the ministry said in a statement on its website. The report could not be independently verified.
Russian-backed authorities in Ukraine’s occupied southern region of Kherson urged residents on Friday to evacuate to Russia. Vladimir Saldo, the region’s Russian-appointed leader, has asked Russia for evacuation assistance. The move is an indication that Ukraine’s forces are advancing closer to the illegally annexed region.
In other developments, the United States warned it can impose sanctions on people, countries and companies that provide ammunition to Russia or support its military-industrial complex, as Washington seeks to increase pressure on Moscow over the war in Ukraine.
Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo, at a gathering of officials from 32 countries to discuss sanctions on Russia, said the department is issuing guidance to make clear that Washington is willing and able to impose such a crackdown.
Information from RFE/RL, Reuters and The Associated Press was used in this report.