West Meets to Pledge More Arms for Ukraine as Biden Hails Gains

Kyiv: More than 50 Western countries met on Wednesday to promise more weapons for Ukraine, focusing on its requirement for air defenses after Moscow launched its most intense missile strikes since the start of the war.

Starting the meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at the headquarters of NATO in Brussels, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Russia’s colossal wave of missile attacks this week had uncovered the “malice and cruelty” of its war.

Ukraine had moved the momentum in the conflict since September with “extraordinary” gains, but would need more help to keep fighting, he said.

“These victories belong to Ukraine’s brave soldiers. But the Contact Group’s security assistance, training, and sustainment efforts have been vital,” Austin said.

Russian attacks utilizing more than 100 missiles have killed at least 26 people across Ukraine since Monday when President Vladimir Putin ordered what he called retaliatory strikes against Ukraine for an explosion on a bridge.

Air attack alarms sounded across swaths of Ukraine for a third day on Wednesday and there were reports of some shelling, yet no indication of a repeat of the intensive countrywide strikes of the previous two days.

The missiles have mostly targeted civilian electricity and heating infrastructure, while some hit busy roads, parks, and tourist sites, including in the center of Kyiv.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia’s missile attacks were a sign of weakness.

“The reality is that they’re not able to make progress on the battlefield. Russia is losing on the battlefield,” Stoltenberg said.

Since Monday’s attacks, Germany has sent the first of four planned IRIS-T SLM air defense systems, while Washington said it would speed up the delivery of a promised NASAMS air defense system.

EU energy ministers were also meeting in Prague to work out ways to cope with an energy crisis caused by the war.

On Wednesday, Polish pipeline operator PERN said it had detected a leak in one pipe in the Druzhba system that carries oil from Russia to Europe, though it said the cause was probably an accident.

Worldwide consideration has been focused on the security of Russian energy pipelines to Europe since the main undersea gas pipelines were damaged by suspected sabotage last month.

Western countries have not said who they blame for huge explosions that blew holes in the two Nord Stream 1 pipelines and one of two pipes that make up the new Nord Stream 2 project but have implied they believe it was Russia.

Putin said on Wednesday gas could now be delivered through the remaining undamaged Nord Stream 2 pipe, but it was up to Europe to allow it. The new pipeline, completed but never opened, has been suspended by Germany since the invasion. Gazprom boss Alexei Miller said fixing the damaged pipes would take more than a year.

As his forces have lost ground on the battlefield since September, Putin has escalated the conflict, ordering the call-up of hundreds of thousands of reservists, proclaiming the annexation of occupied Ukrainian territory, and repeatedly threatening to use nuclear weapons to protect Russia.

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday he doubted Putin would use a nuclear weapon.

Putin is a “rational actor who has miscalculated significantly”, Biden said in a CNN interview, saying he believed the Russian president wrongly expected his invading troops to be welcomed.

Asked how realistic he believed it would be for Putin to use a tactical nuclear weapon, Biden responded: “Well, I don’t think he will.”

NATO’s Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday the military alliance had not noticed any change in Russia’s nuclear posture.

By Archana

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