KYIV: Ukraine has received US Abrams battle tanks, President Volodymyr Zelensky announced Monday, boosting Kyiv's forces as they seek to break through heavily-fortified Russian defensive lines. The announcement came just after Ukraine claimed it had killed the commander of Russia's Black Sea fleet in a missile strike on Moscow's naval headquarters in Crimea last week in what would be a major embarrassment for Russia. "Abrams are already in Ukraine and are preparing to reinforce our brigades," Zelensky said on social media.
Ukraine has repeatedly asked for more Western weapons, including longer-range missiles, to help break through Russian positions and launch strikes deep within Russian-controlled territory. Zelensky did not elaborate on how many tanks had arrived, nor on how long it would take for them to be deployed to the front line. "I am grateful to our allies for fulfilling the agreements. We are looking for new contracts and expanding the geography of supply," he said.
Washington had promised to provide 31 Abrams tanks to Kyiv at the start of the year, part of more than $43 billion in security assistance pledged by the United States since Moscow invaded in February last year. Russia has repeatedly denounced the arms shipments to Ukraine, arguing they "prolong" the conflict and risk causing it to spiral out of control.
Moments before Zelensky's announcement, Ukraine claimed it killed the commander of Russia's Black Sea fleet in a missile strike on Moscow's naval headquarters in annexed Crimea on Friday. The strike dealt a serious blow to Moscow, which has suffered a string of attacks on the strategically important port of Sevastopol over the past months.
"Thirty-four officers were killed, including the commander of the Black Sea fleet. Another 105 occupiers were wounded," Ukraine's special forces said in a statement. The attack sent plumes of black smoke spiraling over the building in central Sevastopol, the largest city in the Crimean peninsula which was annexed by Russia in 2014. "The headquarters are beyond repair," the special forces added in the statement.
Russia's defense ministry said on the day of the attack that one serviceman was missing, without providing any further detail. Ukrainian and Russian attacks in and around the Black Sea have increased since Moscow withdrew from an accord that allowed safe passage to civilian cargo ships from three Ukrainian ports. Ukraine said last week it struck a military air base near the Crimean town of Saky, while Kyiv's forces have repeatedly targeted the only bridge that connects the peninsula to the Russian mainland.
Russia launched attacks on Ukraine Sunday night, with officials reporting at least four deaths in air strikes in the southern Kherson region and the grain-exporting port of Odesa. Since July, when Moscow pulled out of a UN-brokered deal allowing safe grain shipments via the Black Sea, Russia has ramped up attacks on Ukraine's grain-exporting infrastructure. "A Russian missile hit a warehouse where grain was stored," said Odesa regional governor Oleg Kiper, confirming later that two bodies had been found under the rubble.
A hotel near the port was also damaged overnight, officials said, sharing photos of a high-rise building engulfed in flames. A separate attack on the southern Ukrainian city of Beryslav killed two people. "A 73-year-old man and a 70-year-old woman sustained life-threatening injuries," regional governor Oleksandr Prokudin.
The Russian military said in a daily briefing that it launched a strike against Ukrainian facilities used to train "sabotage groups" and "foreign mercenaries", without elaborating. "All facilities were hit. The purpose of the strike was achieved," it said. The Ukrainian military said Russia directed 19 drones and two Onyx supersonic missiles at Odesa and fired 12 Kalibr cruise missiles. The Ukrainian air force said the Kalibrs were launched from a ship and a submarine. They claimed all 19 Shahed drones and 11 Kalibrs were shot down. – AFP