Australia steps up support for Ukraine on first anniversary

Australia pledges more aid for Ukraine

Australia has announced high-tech support for Ukraine on the first anniversary of the war, as the head of Russia’s private army exposed his country’s losses on the front line.

Russia began its large-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, striking major Ukrainian cities with missile and artillery attacks.

One year later, Russia has failed in its objective of a quick takeover, and Ukraine continues to rally the world to eject its aggressive neighbour.

Marking the anniversary on Friday, Defence Minister Richard Marles said Australia would step up its support by providing drones to help with intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

The package of “uncrewed aerial systems” is worth $33 million.

Mr Marles said the drone technology would help Ukraine fight the “unwarranted aggression of Russia”.

Australia has already provided $700 million in support including 90 Bushmasters, 28 armoured vehicles, anti-armour weapons and howitzers and ammunition .

“The Ukrainian people have shown immense bravery and determination in defending their homeland against Russia’s illegal invasion, and Australia will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes,” Mr Marles said in a statement.

A further suite of financial sanctions and travel bans will also be rolled out against an additional 90 people and 40 entities.

Canberra has slapped more than1000 sanctions on Russian and Belarusian politicians, generals and oligarchs as part of an international effort to strangle their economies and ability to fund the war.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong said targeted sanctions reflect Australia’s support for the people of Ukraine and for the “fundamental norms of sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

“Australia is imposing additional sanctions, targeting those in the Russian government who are helping prolong this war, those financing this war, and those spreading mistruths to justify this war.”

Frontline horrors

As the anniversary approaches in Ukraine on Friday (local time), the nation’s intelligence service warned citizens to expect fresh missile attacks.

Meanwhile the head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group laid bare the extent of his private army’s losses on the front line and blamed the Russian Ministry of Defence.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is nicknamed Putin’s ‘chef’, posted a graphic photo showing dozens of corpses piled unceremoniously together.

The Wagner boss said the dead bodies represented those Russians killed in just one day of fighting.

He accused the Russian Ministry of Defence of starving his private army of ammunition, but did not attack President Vladimir Putin.

“This is one of the gathering places of the dead,” Mr Prigozhin said of the image posted on Telegram.

“These are the guys who died yesterday due to the so-called ‘shell starvation’.

“There should have been five times fewer of them. So mothers, wives and children will get their bodies.”

Alongside the photo, the Wagner boss showed a formal request for more ammunition which he said was finally on its way.

His outburst exposes cracks on the Russian side which has suffered repeated humiliating setbacks while trying to capture Ukraine cities.

UN: End war

The UN General Assembly is expected to mark the eve of the invasion’s anniversary by passing a resolution demanding a halt to it.

Ukraine and Russia have lobbied countries for backing ahead of a vote by the 193-member General Assembly that the US declared will “go down in history”.

The draft UN resolution, which is non-binding but carries political weight, mirrors a demand the General Assembly made last year for Moscow to withdraw troops and halt the hostilities.

Ukraine hopes to deepen Russia’s diplomatic isolation by seeking yes votes from nearly three-quarters of countries.

Russia has described the text as “unbalanced and anti-Russian” and urged countries to vote no.

Ukraine said its forces had repelled Russian assaults along the length of the front line on Thursday as Mr Putin talked up Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

After a series of strident speeches in the run-up to the anniversary of his invasion, Mr Putin announced plans on Thursday to deploy new Sarmat multi-warhead intercontinental ballistic missiles this year.

Earlier this week he suspended Russia’s participation in the START nuclear arms control treaty.

Russia would “pay increased attention to strengthening the nuclear triad,” Mr Putin said in remarks released by the Kremlin, referring to nuclear missiles based on land, sea and in the air.

Ukraine and its allies have brushed off the nuclear talk as a diversion from a failing Russian military campaign on the ground.

At a Ukrainian tank park near Bakhmut, the small eastern city that has become Russia’s main target, constant explosions could be heard echoing in the distance.

“If we give up Bakhmut, everything else will get even more complicated. We can’t give it up, under no circumstance. We will hold through,” Junior Sergeant Oleh Slavin, a tank operator, told Reuters.

“We are in place for now and trying to get all the territory back.”

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