As Russia launched new attacks on the beleaguered Ukrainian port city of Mariupol on Wednesday, President Joe Biden summoned his military leadership to get the latest assessment of the Russian invasion.
“I want to hear from all of you and your assessments of what you’re seeing on the ground and in our forces,” Biden told his senior military brass at the White House ahead of his meeting. “The strategic environment is rapidly changing around the world, but that means our plans and the posture of our forces must be equally dynamic.”
Biden met with combatant commanders, including Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, and about two dozen other military leaders and national security advisers.
Earlier Wednesday, the United States imposed new sanctions on dozens of other individuals and entities accused of evading ongoing financial sanctions imposed on Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.
“Treasury Department sanctions Transkapitalbank – a key Russian commercial bank that offered services to banks around the world to evade international sanctions, and more than 40 individuals and entities that are part of a Russian-directed sanctions evasion network by Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.
PSAKI said Washington also imposed sanctions on companies in Russia’s virtual currency mining industry and applied visa restrictions on more than 600 people in response to human rights abuses by Russia and Belarus.
A day earlier, reports surfaced that the Biden administration was planning another major military aid package for Ukraine. The size would be similar to the $800 million package announced last week and is expected to include more artillery and tens of thousands more artillery shells, which will likely be essential for fighting in the eastern Donbass region.
Earlier in the week, Biden confirmed to reporters that he would send more artillery into Ukraine.
“Of the $3.5 billion in drawdown authority granted by Congress for this exercise, we have used more than $2.4 billion to provide Ukraine with the military equipment and capabilities it needs. to defend themselves,” a senior administration official told VOA. “We continue to seek additional security assistance that we can provide to Ukraine, and there are additional authorities that we can draw on if needed.”
The $3.5 billion is part of Ukraine’s $13.6 billion supplementary appropriations law that Congress approved in March.
Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow and director of foreign policy research at the Brookings Institution, told VOA that in addition to military assistance and economic sanctions, Washington needs to start thinking about plausible end states for the conflict.
“And then think about what we can do to encourage the parties, working with other outside players, even the Chinese maybe, to try to get to some kind of place where we can all live, for example. versus the alternative of this turning into a months-long or even years-long conflict,” O’Hanlon said. “But in the short term, we’re just trying to help the Ukrainians not lose.”
Battle for Mariupol
More than 100,000 Ukrainians are believed to be trapped in Mariupol, where 400,000 people lived before Russia invaded the country on February 24.
“Conditions there are truly awful,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday at a diplomatic conference in Panama. He pointed out that attempts at humanitarian corridors to allow Mariupol residents to escape “collapsed very quickly”.
The fight for Mariupol is part of a wider Russian offensive in the strategically important Donbass region, where Moscow has bolstered its military presence.
On March 25, following losses in northern Ukraine, Moscow announced a major shift in strategy and withdrew forces from the north, including from the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv, to consolidate military gains in the Donbass and establish a land bridge to Crimea.
Analysts say that if Russian forces take full control of Donbass, their diplomats will have a stronger hand in peace negotiations and will be in a better position to demand autonomy for the region.
US Department of Defense analysts say the battle for the Donbas region, where fighting has continued since Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014, could drag on for months.