(Reuters) – The United States announced on Friday that it would supply Ukraine with widely-banned cluster munitions for its counteroffensive against occupying Russian forces, and NATO’s leader said the military alliance would unite at a summit next week on how to bring Ukraine closer to joining.

Rights groups and the United Nations secretary-general questioned Washington’s decision on the munitions, part of an $800 million security package that brings total U.S. military aid to more than $40 billion since Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who describes the conflict as a “special military operation” to protect Russian security, has said the U.S. and its allies were fighting an expanding proxy war.

The cluster munitions “will deliver in a time frame that is relevant for the counteroffensive,” a Pentagon official told reporters.

Cluster munitions are prohibited by more than 100 countries. They typically release large numbers of smaller bomblets that can kill indiscriminately over a wide area and those that fail to explode pose a danger for decades after a conflict ends.

“Ukraine has provided written assurances that it is going to use these in a very careful way” to minimize risks to civilians, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said.

U.S. President Joe Biden described the decision on cluster bombs as difficult but said Ukraine needed them.

“They’re trying to get through those trenches, and stop those tanks from rolling,” Biden said in an interview with CNN. “It was not an easy decision.”

Grigory Karasin, head of the international committee in Federation Council, Russia’s upper house of parliament, raised “serious concerns” about decisions by Washington and the NATO leadership, RIA news agency reported. It quoted Karasin as saying that Russia “of course, will respond to this.”

Ukraine says it has taken back some villages in southern Ukraine since the counteroffensive began in early June, but that it lacks the firepower and air cover to make faster progress.

Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield situation.

“It’s too early to judge how the counteroffensive is going one way or the other because we’re at the beginning of the middle,” Colin Kahl, the U.S. under secretary of defense for policy, told reporters.


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visited the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Turkey a day after talks in Bulgaria to drum up support for NATO membership before the alliance’s July 11-12 summit.

In Prague, he won a pledge of support for Ukraine to join NATO “as soon as the war is over”, and in Sofia secured backing for membership “as soon as conditions allow.”

North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reaffirmed his view that Ukraine would become a member.

“Our summit will send a clear message: NATO stands united, and Russia’s aggression will not pay,” Stoltenberg said at a news conference in Brussels.

It remained unclear, however, what Ukraine will be offered next week at the summit in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital. The alliance is divided over how fast Ukraine should move towards membership, and some countries are wary of any step that might take NATO closer to war with Russia.

Zelenskiy has acknowledged that Kyiv is unlikely to be able to join NATO while at war with Russia. Putin has threatened unspecified action if Ukraine joins NATO.


At the United Nations, aid chief Martin Griffiths warned Russia that it should not “chuck away” an agreement it made a year ago on the safe wartime passage of agricultural exports, known as the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

If Russia does not agree to extend the deal that allows export of grain and fertilizer from Ukrainian ports, it is unlikely Western states will continue cooperating with U.N. officials helping Moscow with its exports, Griffiths told reporters.

Russia has threatened to quit the deal, which expires on July 17, because several demands to export its own grain and fertilizer have not been met. The last three ships traveling under the deal are loading cargoes at the Ukrainian port of Odesa and are likely to depart on Monday.

“The world has seen the value of the Black Sea Initiative … this isn’t something you chuck away,” Griffiths said.

The United Nations and Turkey brokered the deal with Russia and Ukraine in July 2022 to help tackle a global food crisis worsened by Moscow’s invasion of its neighbor and blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the deals as playing an “indispensable role” in global food security.

(Reporting by Robert Muller and Jason Hovet in Prague; Pavel Polityuk and Olena Harmash in Kyiv, Mike Stone, Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali in Washington and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; writing by Grant McCool; editing by Diane Craft)

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