UPDATED: Russia says U.S., NATO weapon transports in Ukraine are legitimate targets

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April 13 (Reuters) – Russia will view U.S. and NATO vehicles transporting weapons on Ukrainian territory as legitimate military targets, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the TASS news agency in an interview on Wednesday.

Any attempts by the West to inflict significant damage on Russia’s military or its separatist allies in Ukraine will be “harshly suppressed,” he added.

“We are warning that US-NATO weapons transports across Ukrainian territory will be considered by us as legal military targets,” TASS quoted Ryabkov as saying.

“We are making the Americans and other Westerners understand that attempts to slow down our special operation, to inflict maximum damage on Russian contingents and formations of the DPR and LPR (Donetsk and Luhansk People’s republics) will be harshly suppressed,” he said.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is expected to announce as soon as Wednesday another $750 million in military assistance for Ukraine for its fight against Russian forces, two U.S. officials familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The equipment would be funded using Presidential Drawdown Authority, or PDA, in which the president can authorize the transfer of articles and services from U.S. stocks without congressional approval in response to an emergency.

One of the officials said final determinations were still being made about the mix of equipment.

A senior congressional aide said the equipment to be announced would likely include heavy ground artillery systems to Ukraine, including howitzers.

White House officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The White House said last week that it has provided more than $1.7 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine that Russia calls a “special military operation.”The congressional aide said some lawmakers had been informed within the last 24 hours about the upcoming announcement, which was expected within the next 24 to 48 hours.

Weapons shipments have included defensive anti-aircraft Stinger and anti-tank Javelin missiles, as well as ammunition and body armor.

U.S. and European leaders are being pressed by Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to provide heavier arms and equipment to engage Russia in Ukraine’s eastern region, where Russia is expected to intensify its military efforts.

Raytheon Technologies  and Lockheed Martin Corp  jointly produce Javelins, while Raytheon makes Stingers. Other top weapons makers are Boeing Co, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics  and L3Harris Technologies.

Separately, the Pentagon will host leaders from the top eight U.S. weapons manufacturers on Wednesday to discuss the industry’s capacity to meet Ukraine’s weapons needs if the war with Russia lasts years, two people familiar with the meeting told Reuters.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Idrees Ali; Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Mike Stone; Editing by Mary Milliken and Howard Goller

File photo by EPA/MOHAMED MESSARA

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