President Joe Biden said Tuesday that U.S. and NATO allies are applying increasing pressure on Moscow, the same day that Russian officials declared a new offensive in eastern Ukraine.
"I know the press is always asking me, with good reason, why I'm always on the phone talking with other world leaders trying to keep them organized," Biden said Tuesday in New Hampshire about his morning call with the leaders of Britain, Canada, the European Commission, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, NATO, Poland and Romania. "Well, one of the things I did is, I went on and got a lot of other countries to agree today to release petroleum from their [strategic] reserves."
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden and the leaders also spoke about providing more ammunition and security assistance to Kyiv.
Russia declared Tuesday that it had launched its new offensive for control of eastern Ukraine with the bombardment of targets across the Donbas region, but Ukraine said it was defending the territory and repulsing some of the initial attacks.
"Another phase of this operation is starting now," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, adding that Moscow's goal was the "complete liberation" of the Donetsk and Luhansk territories in the east.
In Washington, a senior Defense Department official called the new Russian military operations a "prelude" for bigger ones to come, saying, "There's a real possibility that this could go on for a while, because both sides can be fairly dug in here, and be dug in fairly well."
The official said Ukraine is outmanned numerically compared to the Russian forces, but "that doesn't mean that they don't have advantages of their own or the ability to actively defend themselves," with weapons being "replenished every single day."
Some segments of the $800 million U.S. tranche of military aid that Biden approved last week have already arrived in Ukraine. The defense official said another half dozen or more flights with more armaments are landing in Ukraine in the next 24 hours.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Tuesday that the United States is sending military aid in response to the situation on the ground.
"You tailor each package based on the fight that they're in and what's going on at the time," he said. "You also have to tailor your packages on what they can absorb on their end. … It would be irresponsible for us not to do it that way."
Luhansk's governor said the eastern city of Kreminna is now "under the control" of Russian forces, which could allow Russia to advance on Kramatorsk, capital of the Donbas region.
But Ukraine said it had repulsed seven different Russian attacks in several battles, destroying 10 tanks and 18 armored units.
"Now, we can already state that the Russian troops have begun the battle for the Donbas, for which they have been preparing for a long time," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address late Monday.
He said a "significant part of the entire Russian army is now concentrated on this offensive" in strategic areas in the eastern part of the country that would allow Russia to link with the Crimean Peninsula it seized eight years ago. The U.S. Defense Department estimated that Russia has already sent 11 more battalion tactical groups into Ukraine, about 8,000 to 11,000 more soldiers.
The Donbas region includes Luhansk and Donetsk, two regions that are already partly held by Russian-backed separatists, along with the besieged port city of Mariupol to the south.
Moscow continued to demand the surrender of Ukrainian forces holed up in a steel plant in Mariupol.
"All who lay down their arms are guaranteed the preservation of life," Russia's Defense Ministry said, but a new deadline passed with no surrender.
Humanitarian officials have raised concerns about disruptions in getting supplies to people in areas that have seen some of the worst violence, including Mariupol, and to establish safe corridors for civilians to flee to safety.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Tuesday there would be no humanitarian corridors active for a third consecutive day due to a lack of agreement with Russia.
Economic pressure mounts
Meanwhile, Psaki said Washington is considering imposing more economic sanctions this week.
"There could be," she said in response to that question. "I think that we're still ... making, doing considerations and running a process for additional sanctions, but there are some under consideration, yes."
Biden said NATO allies agreed Tuesday to release 240 million barrels a day for the next six months, a move that he said would "help deny [Russian President Vladimir] Putin the ability to weaponize energy resources against American families and families in Europe and around the world."
In Denmark, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said her country should move as quickly as possible to be independent of Russian gas supplies. Denmark will boost its production of natural gas for a limited time while also working to produce as much energy from renewable sources as it can, Frederiksen said.
"We are convinced it's better to produce gas in the North Sea than buying it from Vladimir Putin," Frederiksen said. European Union members rely on Russian gas imports to meet about 40% of their needs, but Denmark is not among EU countries most dependent on Russia for energy.
Zelenskyy has urged EU countries to halt their Russian energy imports and for Western nations to sanction the Russian oil industry to pressure Putin to halt the invasion.
While some leaders have expressed a willingness to reduce or end the imports, they have also cited concerns about the effects that a quick cutoff would have on their own economies.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.