Ukraine president again presses West for advanced weapons

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has pressed western leaders to provide more advanced weapons to help his country in its war with Russia, and repeated his calls for Russian forces to withdraw from occupied areas of Ukraine, suggesting Christmas as a retreat date.

During a video conference, Mr Zelensky told host Germany and other leaders of the Group of Seven industrial powers: “It would be right to begin the withdrawal of Russian troops from the internationally recognised territory of Ukraine this Christmas.

“If Russia withdraws its troops from Ukraine, then a reliable cessation of hostilities will be ensured.”

He added: “The answer from Moscow will show what they really want there: either a further confrontation with the world, or finally an end to aggression.”

A woman passes by anti-tank hedgehogs in central Kyiv, Ukraine
A woman passes by anti-tank hedgehogs in central Kyiv, Ukraine (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

The Kremlin has rejected all previous appeals to reverse its land grabs in Ukraine, and it did not immediately respond to this latest one.

The two countries have not engaged in any recent peace talks and there is no end in sight for the war, which is in its 10th month and has killed and wounded tens of thousands of people and left dozens of Ukrainian cities and towns in ruins.

Russia has illegally annexed parts of eastern and southern Ukraine, including the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, though it does not fully control all of them.

Mr Zelensky has said his goal is to reclaim all occupied territory, while Russian President Vladimir Putin insists on solidifying his forces’ control over the areas.

In his address to the G7, Mr Zelensky echoed his prime minister’s Sunday appeal for long-range missiles, modern tanks, artillery and missile batteries and other high-tech air defence systems to counter Russian attacks that have knocked out electricity and water supplies for millions of Ukrainians.

He acknowledged that “unfortunately, Russia still has an advantage in artillery and missiles”.

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal told French broadcaster LCI that in addition to making Ukrainians suffer, Russia wants to swamp Europe with a new wave of Ukrainian refugees by continuing to strike power stations and other infrastructure.

Mr Zelensky said protecting Ukraine’s energy facilities from Russian missiles and Iranian drones “will be the protection of the whole of Europe, since with these strikes Russia is provoking a humanitarian and migration catastrophe not only for Ukraine, but also for the entire EU”.

Anti-tank hedgehogs against the background of an apartment house damaged in the Russian shelling in Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, Ukraine
Anti-tank hedgehogs against the background of an apartment house damaged in the Russian shelling in Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, Ukraine (Andriy Andriyenko/AP)

“The number of refugees in Poland has risen (recently) to some three million. That will probably also mean an increase in their numbers in Germany,” Mr Duda said following talks with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin.

Millions of Ukrainians fled after Russia invaded on February 24.

Thousands of people have died and dozens of cities and towns across Ukraine have been reduced to rubble.

On Monday, Russia shelling again mostly focused on eastern and southern regions that Mr Putin illegally annexed.

To defend against further strikes, Mr Shmyhal reiterated Ukrainian calls for Patriot surface-to-air missiles – a highly sophisticated system.

During the LCI interview, he also asked for more German and French air defence systems, resupplies of artillery shells and modern battle tanks.

Organisers in France expect more than 45 nations and 20 international institutions to take part in a Paris conference starting on Tuesday to raise and co-ordinate aid for Ukraine’s water, power, food, health and transportation needs during the tough winter months.

Providing Patriot missiles to Ukraine would mark a major advance in the kinds of defence systems the West is sending to help the country repel Russian aerial attacks.

So far, no country has offered them, and such a step would likely mark an escalation in the fight against Russia.

A US official told reporters on Monday that the Pentagon has no current plans to send Patriot missiles to Ukraine, but that discussions continue.

A dog passes by an unexploded shell in Bakhmut
A dog passes by an unexploded shell in Bakhmut (Andriy Andriyenko/AP)

Air defences were also a topic of a phone call Mr Zelensky held on Sunday with US President Joe Biden.

Mr Zelensky, his office said, told Mr Biden “about 50% of the Ukrainian energy infrastructure was destroyed”.

Mr Biden “highlighted how the US is prioritising efforts to strengthen Ukraine’s air defence through our security assistance, including the December 9 announcement of 275 million dollars in additional ammunition and equipment that included systems to counter the Russian use of unmanned aerial vehicles”, the White House said.

The G7 leaders said in their statement that they have set an “immediate focus on providing Ukraine with air defence systems and capabilities”.

Even with their current systems, Ukrainian forces have already succeeded in intercepting missiles and drones, and a spokeswoman for the country’s southern armed forces, Natalia Humeniuk, said on Monday on Ukrainian TV that “the effectiveness of anti-aircraft defence is 85%-90%” against weaponised drones.

US officials agree with Ukraine’s reported success in shooting down drones and missiles, attributing the high kill rate in part to intelligence that the US and other allies are providing.

Russian drones are still active.

Their attacks near the Black Sea port of Odesa over the weekend destroyed several energy facilities and left all customers except hospitals, maternity homes, boiler plants and pumping stations without power.

The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Mirjana Spoljaric, completed a visit to Ukraine, including Odesa, on Monday.

A man crosses the river on the debris of a damaged bridge in Bakhmut, the site of the heaviest battles with the Russian troops, in the Donetsk region
A man crosses the river on the debris of a damaged bridge in Bakhmut, the site of the heaviest battles with the Russian troops, in the Donetsk region (Andriy Andriyenko/AP)

The European Union’s foreign ministers gathered on Monday in Brussels to discuss fresh sanctions to further punish Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney sharply condemned “deliberate targeting by Russia of civilians in terms of inflicting suffering on a broad population”.

He described Russia’s actions as “a crime, in terms of both aggression and a crime against humanity”.

Slovakia said that in co-operation with Germany, it has opened a centre to repair Ukrainian howitzers and air defence systems of western origin.

The centre is located inside a military base in the town of Michalovce, some 35 kilometres (22 miles) west of the border with Ukraine, the EU member nation’s Defence Ministry said.

In Ukraine, the eastern Donbas region, which is made up of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, has again become a focus of intense fighting, particularly around the city of Bakhmut.

Ukrainian officials said on Monday the country’s forces hit a hotel in the Luhansk region that served as a headquarters of the Wagner Group, a private Russian military contractor and mercenary group that has played a prominent role in eastern Ukraine.

A hole in the roof of the Catholic cathedral damaged by Russian shelling in Bakhmut
A hole in the roof of the Catholic cathedral damaged by Russian shelling in Bakhmut (Andriy Andriyenko/AP)

Moscow-backed local officials in Luhansk confirmed that a Ukrainian strike destroyed a hotel building in Kadiivka but claimed it was unused.

The Ukrainian mayor of the south-eastern town of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, reported that Ukraine also attacked a hotel that reportedly housed analysts from Russia’s top security agency, the FSB.

Moscow did not comment on that claim, and none of the reports could be independently confirmed.

Russian officials, meanwhile, accused Ukrainian forces of blowing up pillars of a bridge in a suburb of Melitopol on Monday night.

Various reports said Russian forces had been using the bridge to transport supplies and that traffic across it has now stopped.

Elsewhere, the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office said two civilians were killed and 10 were wounded in Russia’s shelling of the town of Hirnyk in the Donetsk region.

Kherson governor Yaroslav Yanushevych said a Russian strike on the southern city of the same name, which Ukraine reclaimed a month ago, killed two civilians and left five wounded on Monday.

He said the Russian shelling hit residential buildings and damaged power lines.

Mr Yanushevych urged city residents to move to shelters.

In Skadovsk, about 62 miles south of Kherson where the Russian-installed Kherson regional administration had been relocated, a senior government official was lightly injured on Monday in an assassination attempt, the Russian Ria-Novosti news agency reported.

The driver of a car carrying the official was killed in the attack, it said.

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