As his nation prepares for a volley of Russian assaults on power plants and other infrastructure, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy asked NATO partners for stronger weapons and air defenses on Wednesday.
Zelenskiy visited NATO headquarters for the first time since Russia invaded the region last year, at a time when the U.S. Congress is in disarray and the world’s focus is on another crisis developing in Israel.
He made explicit comparisons between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, and said Western military aid was crucial to put Moscow on the backfoot in the war.
“The winter air defence is a significant part of the answer to the question of when this war will end and whether it will end justly for Ukraine,” he said.
“We must win the winter battle against terror and we can win it,” he added at a meeting of defence ministers from NATO and some 20 other countries that give military aid to Ukraine in a U.S.-led forum known as the Ukraine Defense Contact Group.
Reiterating the West’s pledge to supporting Ukraine for as long as it takes, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced a new $200 million defence package for Ukraine, including air defence munitions and weapons to counter Russian drones.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Putin was “preparing once again to use winter as a weapon of war” by attacking energy infrastructure in Ukraine.
“We need to prevent that, with more advanced and increased capabilities for air defence, we can make a big difference,” Stoltenberg said.
Ukraine started a counteroffensive over the summer to try to retake territory in the south and east, but has so far failed to make major breakthroughs past Russia’s network of fortifications and minefields.
Washington has provided $44 billion to supply Kyiv with dozens of tanks, thousands of rockets and millions of rounds of ammunition since Russia’s invasion but support is falling among Americans of both main political parties.
Austin and Air Force General Charles Q. Brown, the new top U.S. military officer, want to reassure NATO allies and Ukraine that Washington will continue to provide support to Kyiv despite aid being held up by infighting in the U.S. Congress.
But they will also have to convince allies that Washington can support Ukraine while helping Israel deal with the attacks by Hamas militants.
Successive presidents have tried to reduce the United States’ focus on the Middle East, but are drawn in by crises that can take away from military resources in other parts of the world.
Zelenskiy sought to portray the Russian invasion and the attacks by Hamas as two sides of the same coin.
“Terrorists like Putin or like Hamas seek to hold free and democratic nations as hostages and they want power,” he said.
“(Russia) still has enough resources to incite conflicts and turn them into full-scale tragedies and this is happening in Sahel. And it can happen even more painfully in Israel and in the Middle East.”
Russia has denied targeting civilians and has blamed the West for the war in Ukraine, saying it had no choice but to launch what it calls a “special military operation” there. It describes as baseless suggestions from Ukraine that Moscow is seeking to inflame the situation in the Middle East.
Hamas, which calls for Israel’s destruction, says its attack was justified by the plight of Gaza under a 16-year-old blockade and the deadliest Israeli crackdown for years in the occupied West Bank.
Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant is to join NATO ministers on Thursday via videoconference to discuss the Hamas assault and its consequences.