Ukraine live briefing: State Department weighs $10 billion HIMARS deal with Poland

Ukrainian service members ride a BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicle Tuesday near the eastern town of Bakhmut, which has been at the center of recent fighting. (Reuters)
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The State Department is weighing whether to approve the sale of $10 billion in artillery rocket systems to NATO ally Poland, it said in a notification to Congress on Tuesday. The deal would include 18 launchers and long-range ammunition that the Ukrainian government has repeatedly sought but not received.

Poland has requested 18 M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers and an array of ammunition, including 45 Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS), the State Department said. The United States has so far declined to provide the long-range missiles to Kyiv, out of concern that Russia could view such a move as a significant escalation of the U.S. role in the war.

State Department officials said in a statement that providing the weapons to Poland would meet U.S. foreign policy goals by “improving the security of a NATO Ally that is a force for political stability and economic progress in Europe.”

Here’s the latest on the Ukraine war and its ripple effects across the globe.

1. Key developments

  • German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius made a surprise visit to Kyiv on Tuesday. “The tank coalition is marching … to victory!” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said in a tweet.
  • The defense ministers of Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands announced Tuesday that they would provide Ukraine with at least 100 Leopard 1A5 battle tanks. They would arrive in March, in a move set to complement plans to deliver more-sophisticated Leopard 2 tanks by March.
  • Sweden is ready to restart negotiations over its application to join NATO as soon as Turkey is ready, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said Tuesday, according to Reuters. The process was halted last month after months of tension, with NATO member Turkey holding up the accession of Finland and Sweden. The two countries asked to join the 30-member military alliance in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was set to arrive in Washington on Tuesday for meetings with senior Biden administration officials and members of Congress this week. Stoltenberg will sit down with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, among others.
  • Ukraine’s main Catholic church is set to begin following a new calendar, breaking another link to Russia. Under the change, the church would celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25, rather than Jan. 7, when the Russian branch of the Orthodox Church marks the holiday per the Julian calendar. The calendar switch was “influenced by the social change that took place in the last six months,” which increased support among Ukrainians for the move, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church said in a statement Monday.

2. Global impact

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin offered emergency assistance by phone to the presidents of quake-hit Syria and Turkey. After a Monday call between Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Kremlin announced that Russian rescue personnel are set to fly to Syria.
  • On a visit to Mali on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow plans to increase support to Mali’s military, Russian state media outlet Tass reported.
  • Norway’s government is considering a five-year aid package to Ukraine worth about $7.3 billion, an official said Monday, with half the money funding military requirements and half funding humanitarian aid in 2023. Zelensky hailed the proposal as “an extremely significant contribution.” As one of Europe’s largest fossil-fuel exporters, Norway has seen its gas revenue spike amid the war as people search for alternatives to Russian energy, and the growing demand has led to accusations that it is profiting from the war.
  • U.N. Secretary General António Guterres expressed concern that the war in Ukraine could escalate into a broader global conflict. “The Russian invasion of Ukraine is inflicting untold suffering on the Ukrainian people, with profound global implications,” he said in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Monday. “I fear the world is not sleepwalking into a wider war. I fear it is doing so with its eyes wide open.”

3. Battleground updates

  • Russian and Ukrainian forces are locked in fierce fighting for Bakhmut, an embattled city in the eastern Donetsk region. The city has been under siege by Russian fighters for months and has inspired a national rallying cry for Ukrainians: “Bakhmut holds!” Russia’s defense minister said Tuesday that military operations in the Bakhmut area are “developing successfully” — but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has stressed that his forces still hold the city and are “countering” Russian attempts to surround them.
  • Russia said its installation of protective structures at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant is nearing completion, Reuters reported, citing Tass. Shelling and sporadic bombing near the plant in southeastern Ukraine have for months raised fears of a potential radioactive disaster, with Moscow and Kyiv blaming each other for the attacks.
  • Russian troops are managing to gain only several hundred meters of territory each week, Britain’s Defense Ministry said Tuesday in its daily intelligence update. This, it said, was an indication that Russia “almost certainly now lacks the munitions and manoeuvre units required for successful offensives.” The ministry added: “Senior commanders likely make plans requiring undermanned, inexperienced units to achieve unrealistic objectives due to political and professional pressure.”
  • Ukraine’s parliament appointed a new interior minister and chief of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) on Tuesday. Ihor Klymenko, head of the national police, is the new internal affairs minister; predecessor Denys Monastyrskyi died in a helicopter crash last month. Vasyl Malyuk, the new SBU chief, had served in the role on a temporary basis since July.

4. From our correspondents

Russia ends disclosure rules for officials, citing wartime secrecy needs: Putin on Monday signed a bill exempting Russian lawmakers from disclosing details of their income, expenses and property, reports Francesca Ebel. The law, which will take effect March 1, easily passed Russia’s legislature. Only 24 of 450 lawmakers voted against it.

The move stands in contrast to Zelensky’s aggressive anti-corruption drive in recent days, which aims to reassure Ukraine’s foreign backers that billions in economic and military aid won’t be mismanaged.

Kate Brady contributed to this report.