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Ukraine pushes allies for air defense help in the wake of deadly Russian strikes

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy renewed his plea for increased military assistance at an emergency meeting of the Group of Seven nations.

A new wave of Russian missile strikes left sirens sounding and cities without power across Ukraine on Tuesday, after a sudden escalation that added urgency to Kyiv’s push for greater air defense support from its Western allies.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy renewed his plea for increased military assistance at an emergency meeting Tuesday of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations.

"Since yesterday, the enemy has already used more than 100 cruise missiles and dozens of different drones, including Iranian ones," he told G-7 leaders. "And every 10 minutes, I receive new reports about the enemy’s use of Iranian Shahed drones. We should all be aware that this is an enemy not only of Ukraine — it is the enemy of each of you."

Zelenskyy said that when Ukraine "receives a sufficient number of modern and effective air defense systems, the key element of Russian terror — missile strikes — will cease to work."

In addition to signaling that Ukraine needs more military aid, Zelenskyy asked for another sanctions package after Russia's latest stage of escalation.

In response, the G-7 released a 13-part joint statement reiterating that its members will continue to defend Ukraine and bolster the government's military arsenal. It came against the backdrop of a second day of Russian aerial attacks that destroyed critical infrastructure in some of the most direct strikes on civilian targets since the start of the war.

"We condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms and recall that indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilian populations constitute a war crime," the G-7 said. "We will hold President Putin and those responsible to account."

The statement said the leaders reaffirmed "that any use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons by Russia would be met with severe consequences."

"We reassured President Zelenskyy that we are undeterred and steadfast in our commitment to providing the support Ukraine needs to uphold its sovereignty and territorial integrity," they said. "We will continue to provide financial, humanitarian, military, diplomatic and legal support and will stand firmly with Ukraine for as long as it takes."

Ukrainian authorities said sites were targeted in 12 regions Monday, including the capital, Kyiv, killing at least 19 people and injuring 105.

Image: Emergency workers at the scene of a Russian missile strike on Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, on Monday, Oct. 10, 2022.
Emergency workers Monday at the scene of a Russian missile strike in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. Nicole Tung / The New York Times / Redux

Attacks continued Tuesday morning with missile strikes in the cities of Lviv, a large portion of which was without power, and Zaporizhzhia, where one person died, Ukraine’s emergency services said on its Facebook page. At least two missiles were shot down in the Kyiv region, its governor said.

An air alert in the capital, which sent people scrambling once again to underground  shelters, lasted for more than four hours. Tuesday also saw the first use of a new smartphone alert, which blares a siren sound and provides text updates to warn of a possible attack.

Children were returning to a popular playground that was hit a day earlier, where a Russian missile left a massive crater, inspecting the damage and posing for selfies.

Cleanup After Barrage Of Russian Missiles Hits Kyiv
A large crater left by Russia's missile strike Monday on a children's playground in Kyiv.Ed Ram / Getty Images

The Russian Ministry of Defense said Tuesday that its armed forces “continue launching the massive attack using high-precision long-range air- and sea-based armament at the facilities of military control and energy system of Ukraine.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted of Monday’s strikes in a televised address, painting them as retaliation for the “terrorist” blast at a key bridge between Russia and the annexed Crimean Peninsula.

Across both days, Ukrainian officials said the country’s air defenses had been able to intercept large numbers of the missiles and Iranian-made drones that it said Russia was deploying. But enough made it through to do deadly damage — and prompt vociferous calls for the West to do more to help protect the country’s skies.

President Joe Biden spoke with Zelenskyy after Monday’s strikes, pledging “to continue providing Ukraine with the support needed to defend itself, including advanced air defense systems.”

Zelenskyy, who has been calling for that help since before the war began in February, said on Twitter that air defense “is currently the number 1 priority” for his country when it comes to military aid.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Western allies offers of air defense assistance at a news conference Tuesday.

“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,” he said.

While Ukraine has received large amounts of crucial equipment from the United States, Britain and other European nations — Washington previously pledged to provide surface-to-air missiles in July, and long-range weapons like HIMARS have played a role in Ukraine’s recent counteroffensives — Zelenskyy has consistently asked for more anti-air attack firepower.

Now, the message may be getting through.

German Defense Secretary Christine Lambrecht said Monday that her country would send four medium-range air defense systems to Ukraine, the first to be delivered in the next few days.

“The renewed rocket fire on Kyiv and the many other cities makes it clear how important it is to deliver air defense systems to Ukraine quickly,” she said in a statement.

France and Britain both reasserted their support for Ukraine and pledged further unspecified military assistance. 

Analysts said that if Ukraine had that help sooner, it could have saved lives and protected critical infrastructure and public services.

“The consensus is that if the West had agreed to this, there would have been less casualties,” said Jaroslava Barbieri, a researcher on Russia’s post-Soviet conflicts at Birmingham University in England, referring to air defense systems.

Current and former U.S. officials and defense analysts told NBC News in February that Washington and its allies were reluctant to supply Ukraine with surface-to-air defense weapons before the war and even after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 because of fears it would provoke Putin.

“That was an understandable position — if you were to shoot down a Russian plane, you could start World War III,” Barbieri said. “But the position of the West is shifting, they understand that Ukraine has to win militarily.”

Russia’s objective in Monday’s strikes across Ukraine, she said, was to cause civilian panic, intimidate the West and discourage countries from providing military aid —  as well as to show critics at home that the Kremlin was not conceding defeat after recent setbacks.

Jeremy Fleming, head of the British electronic intelligence agency GCHQ, told BBC News on Tuesday that Russia’s military prospects in Ukraine looked “desperate.”

“We believe that Russia is running short of munitions, it’s certainly running short of friends, and we’ve seen because of the declaration for mobilization that it’s running short of troops,” he said.

Image:
A Russian warship launches a cruise missile at a target in Ukraine on Monday.AP

With Monday’s escalation and Ukraine’s battlefield successes seemingly solidifying the case for increased Western support ahead of the winter, Moscow said it was Kyiv’s allies that were escalating the conflict.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency Tuesday that Russia will be “forced to take adequate countermeasures, including of an asymmetric nature,” in response to the actions of Ukraine and its allies.

“It is obvious that a direct clash with the United States and NATO is not in Russia’s interests. We warn and hope that Washington and other Western capitals are aware of the danger of uncontrolled escalation,” he said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov underlined this point in his daily press briefing, adding that Western supplies of advanced air defense systems would not change Russia’s goals and would only extend the conflict.

CORRECTION (Oct. 11, 2022, 9:30 a.m. ET): A previous version of this article misspelled the first name of a researcher. She is Jaroslava Barbieri, not Jaroslav.