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Biden calls Putin a ‘war criminal’, US to send Ukraine armed drones

The US is sending drones to Ukraine for the first time since Russia launched its offensive last month.

“They’re designed to deliver a punch,” a senior defence official said, declining to further detail the systems but indicating that the drones are armed. Washington’s plans do not include sending American contractors to help operate them, the official said.

The drones are part of President Joe Biden’s new military aid package for Ukraine, valued at $1bn. It also includes anti-aircraft systems and anti-armour systems.

US defence secretary Lloyd Austin will press another key initiative Biden announced on Wednesday: helping Ukraine to secure long-range aircraft missiles.

This week he will meet his Slovakian and Bulgarian counterparts as part of those efforts. Both countries have S-300s, a Soviet system Ukrainians know how to use. Lawmakers from both parties have urged Washington to supply them to Ukraine as Russia presses its offensive there.

“Our focus is on talking to allies and partners who may have these kinds of systems that the Ukrainians can use,” the senior defence official said.

The operational picture in Ukraine remains largely unchanged, the senior defence official said. But the US sees increased naval activity in the northern Black Sea, including shelling of cities and towns near Odessa from Russian warships.

“Whether this is a precursor of a looming amphibious assault, we just don’t see that yet,” the official said.

The Pentagon also assesses that Russia is discussing replacement troops to account for combat losses, the official said. The US sees no indication Russia has moved any troops or supplies from Russia or elsewhere outside of Russia to Ukraine, the official said.

As of Wednesday, Russia has launched more than 980 missiles, the senior defence official said. Russian forces remain the same distance outside of Kyiv, about 30km.

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