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Strikes on Ukraine increase pressure on allies to send advanced air defenses

BRUSSELS – Monday’s series of attacks on Ukrainian cities and key infrastructure sparked prolonged calls from the government to its allies for more advanced air defense systems and longer-range weapons.

The Russian attacks appeared to indicate a significant escalation, increasing pressure on the United States and other European countries that have been slow to provide the Ukrainian armed forces with the most advanced weapon systems.

While a chorus of US and European leaders condemned the attacks and expressed their continued support for Ukraine, it was not clear whether they would speed up or expand their deliveries.

Russia attacks Kiev and cities across Ukraine after attack on Crimean Bridge

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he will address an emergency virtual meeting of the Group of Seven industrialized countries on Tuesday. Ukraine’s calls for additional military aid will also be discussed this week at two meetings in Brussels, one with NATO defense ministers and the other with the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, a collection of about 50 countries established to support Ukraine. help out.

In a statement Monday, President Biden condemned “the utter brutality” of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war. The latest attacks “killed and injured civilians and destroyed targets with no military purpose,” he said, and “only reaffirm our commitment to supporting the people of Ukraine for as long as it takes.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who said he had spoken with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, and promised in a tweet that the United States would “continue to provide unwavering economic, humanitarian and security assistance so that Ukraine can defend itself and provide for its people.”

The United States announced in early July that it would provide Ukraine with two advanced anti-aircraft systems, the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System, or NASAMS. These are part of a stream of equipment that has to be contracted and built within the industry rather than taken from existing inventories. Much of the work had already been done, the Pentagon said last month. “We expect them to reach Ukraine within the next few weeks once the systems are ready and training is complete,” a US defense official said Monday.

Six more systems “will likely take several years to procure and deliver,” the official said, as part of a larger effort to bolster Ukraine’s defenses.

In the meantime, the United States has focused on facilitating the transfer of Soviet-era air defense systems, which officials already trusted Ukrainian forces with. In April, Slovakia sent an S-300 system supplemented by a Patriot missile system piloted by US forces. The Pentagon said it would consult with the Slovak government about a more permanent solution.

Even before Monday’s strikes, Ukraine’s top officials loudly proclaimed the need to bolster air defenses.

Kuleba tweeted Sunday, after Russian attacks on Zaporizhzhya, that “we urgently need more modern air defense and missile defense systems to save innocent lives. I urge partners to accelerate deliveries.”

Monday’s strikes and Putin’s threat of more to come helped bolster Ukraine’s argument. The country’s military said its air defenses shot down 43 of the 83 missiles.

Within hours, Zelensky had made emergency phone calls with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to discuss air defense and other military aid.

Germany’s defense ministry said on Monday that the first of the four IRIS-T air defense systems promised to Ukraine would arrive within “the next few days”, and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Germany is “doing everything we can” to help Ukraine quickly. to reinforce.

“Kiev residents for fear of death in morning traffic. An impact crater next to a playground”, she tweeted. “It is despicable and unjustifiable for Putin to fire missiles at cities and civilians.”

The scene after the Russian attacks in Ukraine

In the phone call with Zelensky on Monday morning, Macron promised more support for Ukraine, including more military equipment, but there are growing questions about the extent to which the French are actually delivering on their promises.

A recent ranking by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy concluded that France spent less on announced arms supplies to Ukraine than many smaller European countries such as Estonia and the Czech Republic. Overall, in August, France was the world’s 11th largest supplier of Ukrainian military aid — a “humiliating” result for a country that sees itself as the EU’s leading military power, critics say.

On Monday, the Prime Minister of Estonia Kaja Kallas, in a video message delivered with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, said we need to “provide air defense from the Allied side so that Ukrainians can protect their cities and civilians, as Russia is definitely escalating to harm civilians.”

Ukraine is interested in air defense systems used by the French military, including the SAMP/T. Le Monde reported that one reason for France’s hesitation is that the country has limited supplies of the necessary batteries.

French government officials have defended the extent of their support by citing “discretion” and suggesting that they have not disclosed all of their stocks. They have also argued that their supplies — including 18 high-precision CAESAR self-propelled howitzer guns — were important additions to the battlefield. France is in negotiations to divert additional CAESAR guns originally ordered by Denmark to Ukraine.

But the criticism that France has fallen behind smaller allies in helping Ukraine seems to have struck a chord with the Élysée Palace. During a meeting with other EU leaders in Prague on Friday, Macron announced the creation of a 100 million euro ($97 million) fund that will allow Ukraine to buy its own military equipment.

The fund comes on top of the roughly $230 million pledged by France for military aid, but well behind the more than $17 billion the Biden administration has sent Ukraine since February.

Noack reported from France, Morris from Berlin and Horton from Washington. John Hudson in Washington contributed to this report.

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