Zelensky pleads for Ukraine ‘air shield’ after Russian onslaught
Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky called on Tuesday for wealthy Western nations to help Kyiv create an “air shield” after a rash of deadly Russian aerial attacks.
Zelensky, who told the G7 club of rich nations “millions of people would be grateful” for help fending off attacks from the sky, warned Russia “still has room for further escalation” after Monday’s bloody missile salvoes across Ukraine.
Following the attacks, Washington pledged to up shipments of air defences to Ukraine, while Germany promised delivery “in the coming days” of the first Iris-T missile shield reportedly capable of protecting a city.
In a week of marked escalation in the war, G7 leaders said that Belarus’s plan to deploy joint forces with Russia constituted a new instance of “complicity” with Moscow, warning Minsk to “stop enabling” Russia’s invasion.
Following talks with Zelensky, G7 leaders said they would hold Russian President Vladimir Putin to account for the attacks but did not say how.
Before the G7 meeting, the Kremlin had already said it expected “confrontation” with the West to continue.
Russia followed up the missile launches at the start of the week with further aerial attacks on Tuesday.
Officials in Ukraine’s western region of Lviv said at least three Russian missiles fired Tuesday targeted energy infrastructure, forcing Kyiv to ask people to cut their electricity usage and switch off appliances at night.
Russia’s defence ministry confirmed Tuesday’s renewed attacks, saying it had carried out massive strikes using long-range and high-precision weapons and that “all assigned targets were hit”.
– ‘Severe’ response –
In Lviv, the largest city in the region of the same name, the mayor said that one-third of homes were without power.
Monday’s attacks saw Russian missiles hit the Ukrainian capital Kyiv for the first time in months.
The Ukrainian defence ministry said Monday that Russia had fired 83 missiles at Ukraine, of which its air defences shot down 52, among which were 43 cruise missiles.
Ukraine said 19 people died and more than 100 people were wounded in the strikes, while the UN said Russia’s bombardment may have violated the laws of war.
Residents across Ukraine expressed shock and rage after the onslaught.
Ksenia Ryazantseva’s suburb of Kyiv, a city of three million people that has largely been spared the violence seen on Ukraine’s southern and eastern fronts, was one of those targeted.
“We were sleeping and we heard the first explosion” by the crossroads, the language teacher, 39, told AFP.
“We woke up and went to check, then the second explosion occurred.”
Monday’s mass barrage came in apparent retaliation for an explosion at the weekend that damaged a key bridge linking Russia to Crimea, a peninsula Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
Putin blamed Ukraine for the bridge blast and warned of “severe” responses to any further attacks.
– ‘Just peace’ –
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the strikes showed Moscow was “desperate” after a spate of embarrassing military setbacks, a sentiment echoed by NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg who said they were “a sign of weakness”.
Ukraine’s allies have been united in their public pledges of unwavering support for Kyiv in the wake of the strikes.
US President Joe Biden told CNN on Tuesday Putin had “miscalculated significantly” Russia’s ability to occupy Ukraine.
He also left open the possibility of talks with Putin on the sidelines of a November meeting of G20 nations — although he was clear there were no plans for talks on Ukraine.
“Look, I have no intention of meeting with him,” Biden said.
But, he added: “If he came to me at the G20 and said ‘I want to talk about the release of (jailed basketball star Brittney) Griner’, I’d meet with him. I mean, it would depend.”
Turkey on Tuesday called for a viable ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine “as soon as possible”, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expected to meet Putin in Kazakhstan this week.
Speaking in a televised interview, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also called for a “just peace” based on Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
Turkey has earned plaudits for brokering deals between the sides, including a grain deal and prisoner swaps.
Another recent prisoner swap saw 32 Ukrainian soldiers freed and the body of an Israeli citizen recovered, the Ukrainian presidency said on Tuesday.
Ukrainian officials also announced the recovery of the remains of dozens of civilians found in mass graves in two towns in the eastern Donetsk region recently recaptured from Moscow’s forces.
Worsening weather is adding to the misery of residents in frontline communities in the region that have been under shellfire and without power or water for months, with basic goods and firewood scarce.
“We can’t do anything. And these explosions, we can’t stand them. When will it be over?” said Oleksandra Pylypenko, 67, who remains in the frontline town of Bakhmut.
Fighting around the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine for months has raised fears of a nuclear accident.
On Tuesday, Putin told the head of the UN’s nuclear energy watchdog Rafael Grossi that he was “open to dialogue” on the future of the facility.
Ukraine’s state nuclear energy agency on Tuesday accused Russian forces of detaining and mistreating another senior official at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.