NATO moves to shield Ukraine’s sky from Russia’s missiles
Ukraine’s Nato-led allies have announced deliveries of advanced air defence weapons to Kyiv, after a spate of Russian missile strikes.
The weaponry promised by the UK, Canada, France and the Netherlands includes missiles and radars. The US earlier made a similar pledge. One high-tech system from Germany is already in Ukraine.
The pledges come as Ukraine’s allies from 50 countries meet at Nato headquarters in Brussels.
Kyiv hailed the summit as “historic”.
Ukraine says Russia fired more than 100 missiles and used dozens of drones on Monday and Tuesday, hitting energy infrastructure and other non-military targets.
At least 19 people were killed on the first day of the strikes.
They also resulted in widespread power cuts and water supply disruption in a number of Ukrainian cities. The authorities in the capital Kyiv had to resort to electricity rationing.
Russian President Vladimir Putin says the missile strikes were retaliation for an attack on a key bridge linking Russia and Crimea – Ukraine’s southern peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014.
Russia says Saturday’s blast was organised by Ukraine’s intelligence agency – a claim rubbished by Kyiv.
The UK will donate air defence missiles, as well as hundreds of aerial drones to support Ukraine’s information gathering and logistics capabilities. It will also provide 18 howitzer artillery guns in addition to the 64 already delivered.
“Russia’s latest indiscriminate strikes on civilian areas in Ukraine warrant further support to those seeking to defend their nation,” said Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.
“These weapons will help Ukraine defend its skies from attacks and strengthen their overall missile defence.”
Speaking after the Brussels meeting on Wednesday, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said “we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that they [Ukrainians] they have what’s required to be effective”.
French President Emmanuel Macron said Paris would supply air defence systems to Ukraine.
In an interview to France 2 television, he did not specify which systems would be sent. But he did say their main function would be to protect the population from drones.
The Netherlands said it would deliver €15m (£13m; $14.5m) worth of air defence missiles.
Dutch Defence Minister Kajsa Ollongren said the Russian attacks “can only be met with unrelenting support for Ukraine and its people”.
Canada pledged to provide more than C$47m ($34m; £31m) worth of military aid, including satellite communications and drone cameras.
The UK is expected to announce its weapons deliveries shortly.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s military announced earlier on Wednesday that the first of several “state-of-the-art IRIS-T SLM has been delivered from Germany to Ukraine”. It said the air defence system would help protect the country “against terror”.
President Zelensky has for months been asking Ukraine’s allies to provide air defence systems to create an “air shield” for Ukraine.
In his video address late on Wednesday, the Ukrainian leader said: “The more audacious and cruel Russian terror becomes, the more obvious it is to the world that helping Ukraine to protect the sky is one of the most important humanitarian tasks for Europe of our time.”
“I believe that we will cope with this task,” he added.
Russia has repeatedly warned Ukraine’s allies against supplying advanced weaponry to Kyiv, stressing this would make them participants of the war that Mr Putin began on 24 February.
The West has accused Moscow of nuclear sabre-rattling, following a string of Russian military defeats on the battlefield.