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Kyiv asks for more rocket systems as Kremlin warns of potential strikes in Russia

A HIMARS rocket launcher during a 2011 training exercise in Yakima, Wash. (Tony Overman/Olympian/AP)

Ukraine says it needs 60 multiple-launch rocket systems to have a chance at defeating Russia, suggesting the number pledged by the West so far may be inadequate, along with access to sophisticated air defenses to help protect vulnerable citizens from relentless shelling.

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, told the Guardian that 60 launchers would stop Russian forces “dead in their tracks.” Forty would slow them down with heavy casualties, he said, while 20 would increase Russian casualties but leave the battlefield outcome little changed.

The United States and Britain recently announced plans to provide Kyiv with multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS), which can hit targets up to 50 miles away. Washington is dispatching four M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, known as HIMARS, though Ukrainian troops need at least three weeks of training to use them, the Pentagon said. Britain has confirmed it would send an unspecified number of M270 launch systems to Ukraine.

U.S. officials have left open the possibility that the United States could send additional rocket systems, but no decision to do so had been made as of Tuesday, said an American defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the matter remains unresolved. Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will meet in France on Wednesday with international counterparts to discuss how best to support Ukraine, this official said, though it was unclear whether they intend to address sending additional multiple-launch rocket systems.

In Tel Aviv, Yevgen Korniychuk, Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel, told reporters that his government wants to purchase Iron Dome air defense systems capable of intercepting short-range rockets and artillery fire. He characterized Israel’s response to the war thus far as lackluster and implored its leaders to do more.

Israel has been cautious about providing military assistance to Ukraine as it has attempted to maintain relationships with Kyiv and with Moscow, and last week rejected a U.S. request that Germany be allowed to deliver Israeli-licensed Spike antitank missiles to Ukraine.

“We are not begging you for help,” the Jerusalem Post quoted Korniychuk as saying. “We do believe that on the moral side, Israel has to take the part of the rest of the western world and help Ukraine with all possible means.”

Milley equates ‘horrors’ in Ukraine with suffering during World War II

The Kremlin has warned Western nations against equipping Kyiv with long-range weapons. Over the weekend, Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened a wider campaign of shelling in response, even as he dismissed their efficacy. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov alleged that Ukraine would use the systems to strike targets inside Russia, though the Biden administration has said Kyiv agreed to use the weapons only within its territory. (London has not said whether it has received a similar assurance from Kyiv, but its shipment was made in consultation with Washington.)

Kyiv has said MLRS shipments are a top priority as it loses ground in eastern Ukraine. Earlier in the war, Ukraine successfully repelled Russian forces trying to seize the capital and other major cities. But Moscow has notched some recent victories in the flat lands of the east with the support of its long-range artillery systems, with pummeled Severodonetsk becoming the latest city in danger of falling under Russian control.

Ukrainian troops are holding their positions despite relentless shelling and “doing their utmost to defend the city,” Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said Tuesday, but the situation remains “difficult.”

Severodonetsk is seen as central to Moscow’s aim of capturing Donbas, an area encompassing the eastern Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk. Russia has concentrated its forces around the city and could take control of the Luhansk region in coming weeks, British military assessments show.

But any victory there will come at a steep cost. Thousands of Russian troops have been killed in combat since the war began in late February. Ukraine has used Western-supplied equipment to great effect, and Kyiv has claimed several high-profile battlefield victories against Russian tanks and ships.

Russia’s grain blockade may require U.S. intervention, general suggests

Ukraine’s navy said this week that it had pushed ships from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet back about 60 miles from the Ukrainian coast. The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, has assessed that anti-ship missiles provided by the West may have helped Ukraine regain control of portions of the northwestern Black Sea.

The Russian military said Tuesday that the captured ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk have been cleared of mines and are ready to ship grain again. Officials indicated there are no clear agreements regarding the export of grain from Odessa, a key port city that remains under Ukraine’s control.

Russia has said it would allow Ukrainian grain safe passage through its Black Sea blockade if Kyiv demines the ports, but Ukrainian officials fear those areas would become staging points to launch new attacks. They have accused Russia of stealing grain from occupied territory and orchestrating a food crisis to pressure the West into rescinding its sanctions.

Ukraine is among the world’s most vital producers of wheat and other agricultural goods, but exports were suspended when Russia invaded and its Black Sea fleet blockaded Ukrainian ports. The American general slated to become NATO’s next supreme allied commander, Gen. Christopher Cavoli, warned Congress late last month that Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian grain exports may require U.S. military intervention to ensure global markets don’t become destabilized.

Annabelle Chapman, Karoun Demirjian, Dan Lamothe, Claire Parker and Adela Suliman contributed to this report.