US hosts weapons summit for Ukraine
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Top US officials hosted emergency talks with allies in Germany on Tuesday on supplying Kyiv with more weapons to fend off Russia's assault, as the UN's chief headed to Moscow in a bid to avert further escalation of the conflict.
The meeting of 40 countries at the US Ramstein Air Base in Germany comes after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Ukraine of only "pretending" to negotiate a cease-fire and warned of a "real" risk of a new world war.
Moscow's invasion of its neighbour, now in its eighth week, has triggered widespread outrage among Western nations who have provided weapons and other assistance to Ukraine's embattled President Volodymyr Zelensky.
But the Western powers have been reluctant to deepen their direct involvement, wary of drawing Moscow's ire and sparking military confrontations beyond Ukraine's borders.
"We believe that they can win if they have the right equipment, the right support," US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said following his visit to Kyiv on Sunday with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The two officials promised $700 million in new aid to Ukraine, after months of pleas by Zelensky for heavier firepower.
And Germany said it would begin supplying anti-aircraft tanks, a clear shift after refusing for weeks to provide more advanced equipment, and a sign that Berlin was abandoning its cautious approach towards Moscow.
Military specialists said Western allies wanted to equip Ukrainian forces to halt the long-range bombings by Russia in the eastern Donbas region, which aim to push back Ukraine's troops so that Russian tanks and troops can move in.
Attack drones, anti-aircraft missiles and sophisticated intelligence from Western agencies could prove vital for slowing the advance of Russia's military might, they said.
But stoking fears of a wider conflict, several blasts were reported Tuesday in the neighbouring ex-Soviet state of Moldova, in the Russian-backed separatist region of Transnistria.
In Moscow, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres was to hold his first in-person talks with Putin since the fighting began on February 24.
"We are extremely interested in finding ways in order to create the conditions for effective dialogue, create the conditions for a ceasefire as soon as possible, create the conditions for a peaceful solution," Guterres said at the start of talks with Lavrov.
The UN is set to vote Tuesday on a resolution that would require the five permanent members of the Security Council -- which includes Russia -- to justify their use of a veto on joint resolutions.
The UN's refugee agency said Tuesday that it now expects more than eight million Ukrainians will eventually flee their country, up from 5.2 million already, and said $1.85 billion would be needed to host them in neighbouring countries, mainly Poland.
But despite the diplomatic scrambling, civilians continued to bear the brunt of much of the fighting raging the south and east.
Among Kyiv's troops, "in terms of morale, the situation is complicated. It's far from rosy," Iryna Rybakova, press officer of the 93rd brigade, told AFP near the frontline in Barvinkove, eastern Ukraine.
In the south, two Russian missiles struck early Tuesday in the industrial city of Zaporizhia, which has been welcoming many of the civilians fleeing the besieged port city of Mariupol, regional authorities said.
Russian forces are expected to soon advance on the city, giving them the potential to seize Ukraine's largest nuclear power plant.
"The city of Kreminna has reportedly fallen and heavy fighting is reported south of Izium, as Russian forces attempt to advance towards the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk from the north and east," the UK Ministry of Defence said in its daily analysis.
And in Mariupol, where some 100,000 residents remain trapped, Russian forces continued to pound the Azovstal steel plant where Ukrainian forces have been holding out,
Moscow said Kyiv was preventing civilians trapped with Ukrainian soldiers at Azovstal from leaving despite a ceasefire announcement, but Ukraine said Russia had refused to guarantee the security of any evacuation corridor.
"The bombings continue constantly, by heavy artillery and aviation," Donestsk regional governor Pavlo Kirilenko said Tuesday on Facebook.
In Kharkiv -- which has faced a daily barrage of Russian rocket attacks since the war began over three months ago -- children spoke to AFP about the bombings, their daily life and hopes for peace.
"I miss my kickboxing training and dance classes," said Alina, 9, who has been forced to sleep in an underground car park.
"Victory would make me very happy. The war won't end straight away, but it will in a few weeks, I made a wish."
Russia for its part has begun accusing Ukrainian forces of striking targets on Russian soil, including two villages in Belgorod and another in the region of Bryansk.
Meanwhile, the IMF warned that Asian nations, like the rest of the world, are being battered by the war, with Russia's invasion of Ukraine and Western sanctions on Moscow driving up food and fuel prices worldwide.
"This is a challenging time for policymakers as they try to address pressures on growth and tackle rising inflation," IMF official Anne-Marie Gulde-Wolf wrote in a blog.