Give & take: West gives Ukraine weapons, bans Russian coal
On a day of give and take, Western nations made more pledges to send arms to Ukraine while the European Union's full ban on Russian coal imports kicked in on Thursday amid claims sanctions against Moscow now even affected its defense exports.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged Thursday that Germany "is shipping arms — a great, great many, sweeping and very effective. And we will continue to do so in the coming time."
Germany, seen early in the war as a lackadaisical ally, has already approved military exports of at least $710 million. Scholz said Germany's commitment to such exports was a "massive" break with its past. He added that Berlin would also provide further financial aid to Ukraine.
In Copenhagen, Britain and Denmark also made more commitments to shore up Ukraine's defense to push back Russia's invasion which has devastated the nation and reverberated across the world, causing anything from economic damage to the depletion of food supplies.
"We will not let you down," Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said as she opened a donor's conference. Denmark said a new contribution of $113 million would push the total amount of funding from the small northern nation of 5.8 million to over $500 million. She called it "a huge donation."
And to put more pressure on Russia, Britain announced it will send additional multiple launch rocket systems and guided missiles to Ukraine to help it resist Russia's invasion.
The new weapons, whose number wasn't specified, come on top of several rocket-launch systems given by Britain to Ukraine earlier this year. Britain said the new missiles can hit targets up to 80 kilometers (50 miles) away with pinpoint accuracy.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the bolstered military support shows the West "will stand shoulder-to-shoulder, providing defensive military aid to Ukraine to help them defend against Putin's invasion," Wallace said at a meeting of mostly northern European allies of Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pleaded for more aid by videoconference.
"We need armament, munition for our defense," he said. "The sooner we stop Russia, the sooner we can feel safe."
Britain said that Moscow was already strained by the need to produce armored fighting vehicles for its troops in Ukraine and hence "is highly unlikely to be capable of fulfilling some export orders," in a sector it has long taken pride in.
The British defense intelligence update, highlighting "the increasing effect of Western sanctions," dovetails with Western belief that the series of measures they imposed on the Kremlin since the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine are increasingly having an impact on the Russian economy.
The update said that because of the war and sanctions, "its military industrial capacity is now under significant strain, and the credibility of many of its weapon systems has been undermined by their association with Russian forces' poor performance."
Russia military credibility came under more pressure on Wednesday when Ukraine said nine Russian warplanes were destroyed i n a string of explosions at an air base in Russian-controlled Crimea that appeared to be the result of a Ukrainian attack.
Russia denied any aircraft were damaged in the blasts — or that any attack took place. But satellite photos clearly showed at least seven fighter planes at the base had been blown up and others probably damaged.
Wallace dismissed Russian explanations of the blasts, including a wayward cigarette butt, as "excuses."
"When you just look at the footage of two simultaneous explosions not quite next to each other, and some of the reported damage even by the Russian authorities, I think it's clear that that's not something that happens by someone dropping a cigarette," Wallace said.
Thursday also marked the day when an EU ban on coal imports from Russia was taking effect in following a long phase-in going back to April. The 27-nation EU said it will affect about 25% of Russian coal exports and create a loss of about $8 billion a year. The EU is also trying to wean itself off Russian gas imports, but is too dependent to impose a full ban.
This week, there also were calls to impose a ban on Russian tourist visas, but Scholz placed the responsibility for what he described as "a criminal war" squarely with Russian President Vladimir Putin, indicating that he doesn't support such a move.
As the war is now nearing the half-year point, Russia is facing other challenges too.
As Russia continues to suffer losses in its invasion of Ukraine, th e Kremlin has refused to announce a full-blown mobilization, also because such a move could be very unpopular for President Vladimir Putin. That has led instead to a covert recruitment effort that includes using prisoners to make up the manpower shortage.
This also is happening amid reports that hundreds of Russian soldiers are refusing to fight and trying to quit the military.
On the ground in Ukraine itself, the war continued with the repetitive blasts of incoming shells.
Three people were killed during the night of the city of Nikopol, according to the governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, Valentyn Reznichenko, with nine others injured in the shelling which damaged about 40 apartment buildings.
Nikopol is about 50 kilometers (30 miles) downriver from Zaporizhzhia. In the Donetsk region, 11 people were killed over the past day, six of them in Bakhmut, according to regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko. Bakhmut is a key target for Russian forces as they try to advance in the east.
The governor of Russia's Kursk region, Roman Starovoit, said Thursday that two villages near the Ukrainian border -- Tetkino and Popovo-Lezhachi -- came under fire from Ukraine. He didn't immediately give details about casualties or the extent of damage.