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Ukraine gets new air defenses and allies deepen their resolve after Russian strikes

Ukraine gets new air defenses and allies deepen their resolve after Russian strikes

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Ukraine’s allies announced the delivery of new air defenses and recommitted themselves to strong and sustained military assistance at a meeting at NATO headquarters on Wednesday, saying Russian missile strikes just two days ago had united them.

Seated alongside his Ukrainian counterpart, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin opened a meeting of more than 50 countries by condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin’s deadly missile attacks on “targets that have no military purpose” across Ukraine.

“The whole world has once again witnessed the malice and cruelty of Putin’s chosen war, rooted in aggression and waged with deep contempt for the rules of war,” Austin told the crowd, who was seated next to Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov.

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“But the recent Russian attacks have only deepened the resolve of the Ukrainian people and further united countries of goodwill from every region on earth,” he added.

Russian air attacks have killed 19 people in Ukraine, injured more than 100, and halted power supplies across the country, adding new urgency to Kyiv’s longstanding calls for air defenses to protect its cities.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg described the Russian missile attacks as a sign of weakness, after weeks of Ukrainian gains drew rare criticism within Russia of its war effort.

“The truth is that they are not able to make progress on the battlefield,” Stoltenberg said. “Russia is already losing on the battlefield.”

“Ukraine has the momentum and continues to make significant gains, while Russia is increasingly resorting to horrific and indiscriminate attacks on civilians and critical infrastructure.”

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Germany announced that the first four IRIS-T air defense systems have arrived in Ukraine. German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht described it as “a very important support for Ukraine in the fight against missile attacks”.

A senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Germany’s IRIS-T system was another sign of commitment to provide air defenses to Ukraine, ahead of Putin’s recent missile strikes on the country.

“Again this is a horrific combination of circumstances, what happened,” the official said. But the fact that Russia has this capability and is willing to use it, including against civilian infrastructure and civilian targets, is not surprising.

The gathering in Brussels is the first major NATO meeting since Moscow annexed several Ukrainian provinces, announced mobilization and issued veiled nuclear threats, moves that the alliance characterized as a clear escalation of the war that began with its February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

A senior NATO official said a Russian nuclear strike would change the course of the conflict and almost certainly trigger a “material response” from Ukraine’s allies – “and possibly NATO itself”. Read more

The official did not elaborate on what the physical response might entail.

critical infrastructure

Attacks on Nord Stream pipelines running under the Baltic Sea have added to tensions, although it remains unclear who was behind the explosions.

NATO warned Moscow on Tuesday that it would face attacks on critical allies’ infrastructure with a “united and resolute response.”

Stoltenberg pledged to step up protection of critical infrastructure, saying that NATO had already doubled its presence in the Baltic and North Seas to more than 30 ships supported by aircraft and offshore activities.

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Speaking ahead of the two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers, Stoltenberg said that although the alliance has not seen any changes in Russia’s nuclear posture, it is vigilant and will continue its annual nuclear readiness exercise next week.

He was referring to the “Noon Clash” exercise in which NATO air forces use US nuclear bombs stationed in Europe with training flights without live weapons.

Stoltenberg said canceling the exercises because of the war in Ukraine would send a “very wrong signal”.

“It is an exercise to ensure our nuclear deterrent remains safe and effective,” he said, adding that NATO military force was the best way to prevent any escalation of tensions.

Moscow, which describes its actions in Ukraine as a “special military operation” to eliminate dangerous nationalists and protect Russian-speaking people, has accused the West of escalating the conflict by backing Kyiv.

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(Reporting by Sabine Siebold and Philip Blinkinsop) Additional reporting by John Chalmers and Jan Struchevsky. Editing by Alex Richardson, Nick McPhee and Jonathan Otis

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