KYIV – On a day of give and take, Western nations made more pledges to send arms to Ukraine while the European Union's full ban on Russian coal imports kicked in Thursday, adding to the sanctions against Moscow that intelligence claims are hurting its defense exports.
Germany, seen early in Russia's invasion as a lackadaisical Ukrainian ally, is making what Chancellor Olaf Scholz described as a “massive” break with its past by sending weapons to the war-ravaged country.
Scholz said Germany "is shipping arms — a great, great many, sweeping and very effective. And we will continue to do so in the coming time.” His government has approved military exports of at least $710 million and plans to provide further financial aid to Ukraine, the chancellor said.
At a conference in Copenhagen, Britain and Denmark also made additional commitments to help Ukraine's defense against Russia's invasion, which has devastated the nation and reverberated across the world.
“We will not let you down,” Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said as she opened a daylong international donor's conference. Denmark said a new contribution of $113 million would push the total amount of funding from the small northern nation of 5.8 million to over $500 million. She called it “a huge donation.”
In comparison, Ukraine's top donor, the United States, has committed $9.1 billion in security aid since Russian troops invaded on Feb. 24.
To put more pressure on Russia, Britain announced it will send additional multiple launch rocket systems and guided missiles to Ukraine. The missiles can hit targets up to 80 kilometers (50 miles) away with pinpoint accuracy, the U.K. government said.
The new weapons, whose number wasn’t specified, come on top of several rocket-launch systems Britain provided earlier this year after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into Ukraine.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the bolstered military support shows the West “will stand shoulder-to-shoulder, providing defensive military aid to Ukraine to help them defend against Putin’s invasion."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, speaking by videoconference to the meeting of mostly northern European countries, pleaded for more aid. “The sooner we stop Russia, the sooner we can feel safe,” he said.
Britain said Moscow was already strained by the need to produce armored fighting vehicles for its troops in Ukraine and hence “is highly unlikely to be capable of fulfilling some export orders,” in a sector it has long taken pride in.
The British defense intelligence update, highlighting “the increasing effect of Western sanctions,” dovetails with Western belief that the series of measures imposed on the Kremlin since the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine are increasingly having an impact on the Russian economy.
The update said that because of the war and sanctions, “its military industrial capacity is now under significant strain, and the credibility of many of its weapon systems has been undermined by their association with Russian forces' poor performance.”
As the war nears the half-year point, Russia faces other challenges. Amid reports that hundreds of Russian soldiers were refusing to fight and trying to quit the military, covert recruitment efforts are underway that include using prisoners to make up for a shortage in trained troops.
Russia's military credibility came under more pressure on Wednesday when Ukraine said nine Russian warplanes were destroyed following explosions at an air base in Russian-controlled Crimea that appeared to be the result of a Ukrainian attack.
Russia denied any aircraft were damaged in the blasts — or that any attack took place. But satellite photos clearly showed at least seven fighter planes at the base had been blown up and others probably damaged.
The U.K.'s Wallace dismissed Russian explanations of the blasts, including a wayward cigarette butt, as “excuses.”
"When you just look at the footage of two simultaneous explosions not quite next to each other, and some of the reported damage even by the Russian authorities, I think it’s clear that that’s not something that happens by someone dropping a cigarette,” the British minister said.
Ukrainian forces mounting a broad counter-offensive in the south have recaptured 54 settlements in the Kherson region, overrun by Russia in the early days of the war, the governor said Thursday.
Speaking on Ukrainian TV, Yaroslav Yanushevych also accused Moscow of shelling the areas it lost in retaliation, creating a “catastrophic” humanitarian situation in towns and villages along the region's northern boundary. The governor said 92% of the Kherson region remains under Russian occupation.
In the east of the country, the Ukrainian military said it had repelled Russian attempts to advance on the city of Bakhmut, a key target of Moscow’s offensive in the Donetsk region. It also said Russian troops had tried and failed to break through Ukrainian defensive lines near the cities of Kramatorsk and Avdiivka, also in the Donetsk region.
The military also reported Russian shelling of dozens of towns and villages in Ukraine’s north, south and east.
In his nightly video address, Zelenskyy urged Ukrainians not to divulge details about the country's military operations.
“If you want victory for Ukraine, then that’s another matter, and you should feel your responsibility for every word you say about what our state is preparing in terms of defense or counter-offensives,” he said.
Russia, meanwhile, was taking apparent steps to strengthen its control over the eastern Luhansk region after driving out the last Ukrainian troops last month. Luhansk and Donetsk make up the Donbas, the industrial heartland.
Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president, said he was joined on a visit to the region by Russia's top law enforcement and security officials and also the minister in charge of construction.
Medvedev, in a post on a messaging app, said they met with local Kremlin-backed officials to discuss “restoring infrastructure, repairing hospitals and preparing schools for the start of the school year, solving social problems and supporting civilians.”
In other developments Thursday:
— Burial services were held for 11 more unidentified bodies found in Bucha, the town outside the Ukrainian capital that saw hundreds of people slaughtered under Russian occupation early in the war.
— The governments of Ukraine and Russia traded more accusations over which side was responsible for shelling the territory of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres appealed to Moscow and Kyiv to stop military action around Europe’s largest nuclear plant to avoid a catastrophe.
— The European Union's ban on coal imports from Russia took effect following a long phase-in that started in April. The 27-nation EU said it will affect about 25% of Russian coal exports and create a loss of about $8 billion a year. The EU is also trying to wean itself off Russian gas imports, but is too dependent to impose a full ban.
— And in perhaps the most symbolic example of give and take on Thursday, McDonald’s announced plans to start reopening some of its restaurants in Ukraine in the coming months. The fast-food giant shuttered and sold hundreds of its Russian restaurants in March.
Looking beyond a hoped-for return to peace, Scholz said Germany was working with the EU to develop plans for the reconstruction of Ukraine.
“That is going to be a big, big task which can hardly be described as a Marshall Plan,” he said, referring to the massive U.S. aid plan for Europe in the wake of World War II. “It’s bigger.”
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine