Ukraine’s attack increases pressure on Western allies for air defense systems

BRUSSELS – The string of attacks against Ukrainian cities and key infrastructure on Monday galvanized long-standing calls from the government to its allies for more sophisticated air defense systems and longer-range weapons.

The Russian attacks appeared to signal a significant escalation, increasing pressure on the United States and other European countries, which have been slow to supply Ukrainian forces with the most advanced weapons systems.

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

Russia attacks Kyiv and cities across Ukraine after attack on Crimean bridge

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he would address an emergency virtual meeting of the Group of Seven industrialized nations on Tuesday. Ukraine’s calls for more military aid are also set to be discussed this week at two meetings in Brussels, one involving NATO defense ministers and the other Ukraine’s Defense Contact Group, a group of about 50 countries set up to provide aid to Ukraine.

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

Zelensky said later Monday that he had a “productive conversation” with Biden about air defense.

The United States announced in early July that it would supply Ukraine with two advanced air defense systems, called the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System, or NASAMS. They are part of a stream of equipment 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 they will reach Ukraine within the next few weeks once the systems are ready and the training is complete,” a US defense official said on Monday.

Another six systems “will likely take several years to acquire and deliver,” the official said, part of a larger effort to bolster Ukrainian defenses.

Meanwhile, the United States has focused on facilitating the transfer of Soviet-era air defense systems, which officials have agreed are already familiar to Ukrainian troops. In April, Slovakia dispatched an S-300 system loaded with a Patriot missile system operated by US troops. The Pentagon said it would consult with the Slovak government about a more permanent solution.

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

Even before the strikes on Monday, Ukraine’s top officials loudly proclaimed the need to increase the air defense.

Drunk tweeted Sunday, after Russian attacks on Zaporizhzhia, that “we urgently need more modern air defense and missile defense systems to save innocent lives. I call on partners to speed up deliveries.”

Monday’s strikes and Putin’s threat that more would come helped bolster the Ukrainian argument. The country’s military said its air defenses intercepted 43 of the 83 missiles fired at it.

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

The German Defense Ministry said Monday that the first of four IRIS-T air defense systems promised to Ukraine would arrive in the “next few days,” and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Germany is doing “everything we can” to quickly strengthen Ukraine.

“Kiev residents fear death in morning traffic. An impact crater next to a playground,” she tweeted. “It is disgusting and unjustified that Putin is firing rockets at cities and civilians.”

The scene after Russia’s strikes across Ukraine

In the phone call with Zelensky on Monday morning, Macron promised increased 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 of Kiel Institute for the World Economy concluded that France has spent less on announced arms deliveries to Ukraine than much smaller European nations such as Estonia and the Czech Republic. Overall, France ranked as only the 11th largest global supplier of Ukrainian military aid in August – a “humiliating” result for a country that considers itself the EU’s leading military power, critics say.

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 defenses from the allied side so that Ukrainians can protect their cities and civilians because 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 has been that the country has a limited stock of the necessary batteries.

French government officials have defended the extent of their support, citing “discretion” and suggesting they have not disclosed all their supplies. They have also argued that their deliveries – including 18 highly accurate CAESAR self-propelled howitzer guns – have been important additions to the battlefield. France is in talks to divert additional CAESAR guns, originally ordered by Denmark, to Ukraine.

But criticism that France has lagged behind smaller allies in helping Ukraine appears to have struck a nerve at the Élysée Palace. 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 is in addition to about $230 million France had committed to military aid, but far behind with the more than 17 billion dollars that the Biden administration has sent Ukraine since February.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), a former senior Pentagon official, said the United States should consider providing Patriot batteries and C-RAM air defense systems. C-RAMs are chain gun batteries that fire against incoming rounds and are typically associated with protecting US bases in the Middle East from rocket, artillery and mortar fire.

“Raising the pace of delivery of equipment already promised is essential to protect Ukrainian civilians under attack,” Slotkin said on Twitter.

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

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