They also come as Ukraine and its Western allies await possible pronouncements or dramatic shifts on the battlefield by the Kremlin before Monday, when Russia observes Victory Day, commemorating the surrender of Nazi Germany and the end of the European front in World War II.
New curfews have been announced in Zaporizhzhia, a Ukrainian enclave that abuts regions experiencing heavy fighting, while the mayor of Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, warned residents to be ready for increased missile attacks on the holiday. Britian’s Defense Ministry, meanwhile, warned Friday that Russia would probably try to complete its takeover of the port city of Mariupol — where a small cadre of forces and civilians remain holed up in the Azovstal steel plant — before the Victory Day celebrations.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry dismissed speculation it might try to deploy a nuclear weapon, noting its doctrine on that point was “not applicable to implementing the tasks set during the special military operation in Ukraine.” But there were signs that Russia was taking a series of softer power steps to assert its dominance in Ukrainian areas in which it has claimed control.
Municipal workers were photographed replacing road signs around Mariupol in Ukrainian script with signs in Russian script, days after reports and images being shared online indicated that Russian authorities have forced residents of Kherson, an area just north of Crimea, to shift their currency from the Ukrainian hryvnia to the Russian ruble.
Russia has long justified its incursions into Ukraine by saying it is protecting the rights of Russian speakers in eastern regions.
President Biden is expected to mark Monday by signing the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act, a bill that aims to speed up the process by which the United States can send weapons to Ukraine. That bill-signing will happen a day after Biden is scheduled to meet virtually with Zelensky and the leaders of the Group of 7 nations to discuss the situation on the ground.
Ukraine has seen an enormous influence in pledges of weapons assistance since beating back the Russian advance in the north of the country.
The United States has already sent the “vast, vast majority” of the 90 howitzers it committed to provide Ukraine, as well as approximately 60 percent of the 144,000 artillery rounds it had pledged to supply those weapons systems, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said. On Friday, Germany pledged to send an additional seven howitzer systems to help Kyiv, while US officials announced they would send nearly $140 million more in aerial drones, laser-guided rockets, binoculars and other support items.
But the pipeline is not unlimited. On Friday, Biden announced that the United States would be sending another package of “additional artillery munitions, radars, and other equipment” for Ukraine, but said the government had “nearly exhausted” congressionally approved funding that could be used to send more help. Earlier on Friday, Kirby said that the administration had approximately $250 million in drawdown authority left.
Biden has requested an additional $33 billion in Ukraine aid, nearly two-thirds of which would be dedicated to security spending. Kirby has said that package should carry Ukraine through another five months of fighting. Congress has not yet approved the funding, and there are concerns about how quickly defense contractors would be able to meet the government’s demands to replenish US stockpiles to ship Ukraine what it needs.
“This is pretty unprecedented, the amount of munitions that are being used right now,” the Pentagon’s acquisition chief, Bill LaPlante, told reporters Friday. He said the United States and Europe will be “reexamining our assumptions” about future levels of weapons production needed during peacetime to avoid being caught flat-footed, “where all of a sudden we find our production lines need to be boosted up.”
International leaders appear to be bracing for an extended period of conflict, warning on Friday that the global threats posed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could metastasize in the weeks and months ahead. European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell told the Associated Press that he is “very much worried” Russia could try to invade Moldova, which borders Ukraine to the west. Russia already has a military presence in Transnistria, a narrow breakaway region that runs along much of Moldova’s border with Ukraine.
Amnesty International released a comprehensive report Friday noting “compelling evidence” of war crimes in the Ukrainian village of Bucha, including “apparent extrajudicial executions… reckless shootings, and torture.” Amnesty’s senior crisis response adviser, Donatella Rovera, noted that the findings were “very much part of a pattern wherever Russian forces were in control of a town or a village.”
The United Nations warned that nearly 25 million tons of grain intended for export was stuck in Ukraine as a result of the fighting there, which has crippled infrastructure and resulted in a blockade of port cities like Mariupol.
Ukraine, normally one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, also has accused Russia of “stealing their grain en masse” from farmers. Either way, the shortfalls in the global exports are expected to cause price shocks, according to UN officials, and could exacerbate resource conflicts elsewhere in the world.
Demirjian and Bella reported from Washington, DC, and Francis reported from London. Mariana Alfaro, Dan Lamothe, Claire Parker and Adam Taylor in Washington, DC; Mary Ilyushina in Riga, Latvia; and David L. Stern from Mukachevo, Ukraine, contributed to this report.