U.S. pledges $1bln in weapons at 'pivotal moment' in Ukraine war

STORY: Russia's invasion of Ukraine is at a "pivotal" moment, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Wednesday, adding the United States and its allies could not lose focus on the three-month long conflict, as the United States pledged $1 billion in more weapons to Kyiv.

"We must continue to rise to meet this challenge. Ukraine's soldiers and citizens are doing just that. And they are defending their homeland with resolve, grit, and ingenuity. And they've inspired us all. And they need our help."

Austin spoke in Brussels at a meeting of dozens of defense ministers working to coordinate aid to Ukraine, where several countries pledged more military assistance.

The White House announced around $1 billion worth of new weapons for Ukraine on Wednesday, including coastal defense systems and ammunition for artillery and advanced rocket systems.

"And it includes guided MLRS munitions, eighteen more M777 Howitzers and the tactical vehicles to tow them, and 36,000 rounds of 155-millimeter ammunition."

Russia on Wednesday accused Western countries of "fighting a proxy war with Russia," saying the blood of Ukrainian civilians was on the hands of western countries supplying weapons.

Ukraine is pressing the United States and other allies for speedy deliveries of weapons as it fights Russian forces in the eastern Donbas region.

The battle for the eastern industrial city of Sievierodonetsk is now the biggest fight in Ukraine as the conflict has shifted into a punishing war of attrition.

Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley told reporters that about three-quarters of Sievierodonetsk was under Russian control, but Ukrainians were fighting fiercely for the city.

"The numbers clearly favor the Russians. In terms of artillery they do outgun and outrange, you've heard that many, many times. And they do have enough forces, but the Russians have run into a lot of problems. They've got command and control issues, morale issues, leadership issues, and a wide variety of other issues. So the Ukrainians are fighting a heroic fight."

Kyiv has said it was losing 100 to 200 soldiers each day, with hundreds more wounded. In an overnight address, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy described the battle for the Donbas industrial heartland as one of the most brutal in European history.