NATO countries offer a handful of new pledges amid Ukrainian pleas on air defense

BRUSSELS — Pleas from Ukraine for air defense support, after a barrage of Russian strikes on civilian targets, prompted new pledges from Britain, Spain and France — and more encouraging words from other defense ministers gathered for a two-day NATO meeting at alliance headquarters.

The mix-and-match assortment of systems on offer from NATO allies, with uncertain delivery times, suggested a disconnect between the acute fears voiced by Western leaders about continued strikes, and their ability to help protect Ukraine and its citizens, who have already experienced disruptions in electricity service and could be facing a cold, dark winter ahead.

Britain on Thursday announced that it would send Ukraine AMRAAM antiaircraft missiles — ammunition to go with two advanced weapons systems previously pledged by the United States. Spain promised four medium-range Hawk launchers, while French President Emmanuel Macron said in an interview Wednesday that his country would deliver radar and air defense systems to Ukraine in the coming weeks. He did not say which systems.

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There were no announcements from US officials. A US defense official said Monday that two National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, or NASAMS, should arrive “within the next several weeks.”

Germany, too, referred to a previous pledge. After Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov confirmed the arrival of the first IRIS-T air defense system from Germany this week, German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said another three would follow next year.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday in a virtual address to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that his country has only 10 percent of the air defense hardware it needs.

At NATO, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stressed the resolution of the United States and other allies to get Ukraine more.

Acknowledging the handful of new offers, Austin said in a news conference: “We would encourage the rest of our allies to dig deep and provide additional capability as well.”

But he also noted that delivering sophisticated air defense systems is a complicated and time-consuming task: “Some may take weeks or months; others may take years.”

Austin suggested that the war in Ukraine might ultimately mean that NATO countries need to spend more than the current goal of 2 percent of gross domestic product for defense, as countries expand their industrial bases and replace the weapons and equipment sent to Ukraine.

Strengthening Europe’s defenses was on the agenda in Brussels this week. Defense ministers from 14 NATO allies plus Finland agreed to develop the “European Sky Shield Initiative,” a German-led push to create a European air and missile defense system through joint acquisition of air defense equipment and missiles.

Such a program would be designed to protect the participating countries, not non-NATO allies like Ukraine.

The meeting of defense ministers took place at a difficult and dangerous moment in the Ukraine conflict, as NATO countries and other nations backing Kyiv have grown increasingly alarmed and angry about Russia’s brutal tactics and as prospects for a negotiated peace seem almost nonexistent.

The Group of Seven industrialized democracies on Tuesday called for Russia’s full and unconditional withdrawal from occupied Ukrainian territory, and demanded future assurances for Ukraine’s security and reconstruction of the country to be paid for by Russia.

Senior Russian officials, meanwhile, have said their military objectives remain unchanged and have lashed out at the United States and Britain, accusing them of undermining potential negotiations and directing Kyiv to prolong the war.

A string of battlefield setbacks have Russian forces on the back foot, NATO officials and diplomats say, but there is no sign that Russian President Vladimir Putin intends to back down, and Russia has been taking steps to tighten its grip on occupied areas that it claims to have annexed. The territorial seizures are a violation of international law.

With its stocks of precision ammunition running low, the Russian side has stepped up attacks using longer-range Soviet-era munitions, taking aim at Ukrainian infrastructure and civilian targets far from the front line, a senior NATO official said — a sign, some fear , of what’s to come.

Ukraine’s electricity operator, Ukrenergo, said Thursday that workers had restored power around the country after the missile attacks earlier in the week.

The head of Ukrenergo, Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, said the electricity supply was “stabilized” but that some restrictions on consumption would still be required.

Kyiv and its allies are worried about continuing Russian strikes on power stations and other critical infrastructure. In a television interview, Kudrytskyi shared those fears. “This heating season will be very difficult,” he said.

In Brussels, the United States and allies stressed unity on Thursday, but just beneath the surface there are signs of division — and distractions — even within NATO.

While the defense ministers were gathered, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country is a member of the alliance, met with Putin in Kazakhstan. Erdogan has sought out a role as a negotiator, and helped broker a recent prisoner exchange.

But the Turkish leader does not speak for other allies, and it was unclear what goals he might pursue, given the new clarity of the G-7 in endorsing Zelensky’s definition of a “just peace,” which includes full restoration of Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty.

At their meeting in Astana, Putin offered to build a new gas pipeline to Turkey in what appeared to be an escalating effort by the Kremlin to draw attention to high energy prices in Europe and to pressure Western governments into resuming purchases of Russian gas.

“Europe is now doomed to buy American liquefied gas at exorbitant prices,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, explaining Putin’s offer.

Peskov said the two presidents had discussed an agreement that allowed the export of Ukrainian grain, but the war itself was not a specific topic of their conversation.

Ahead of the meeting, Turkish media reported that Erdogan was working on a plan to organize negotiations that would involve Russia, the United States, Britain, Germany and France.

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace defended Erdogan’s outreach, saying that “Nobody should be condemned for trying to talk to Putin.”

“Someone has to talk Putin down from where he has gotten himself,” Wallace said.

In Brussels, NATO officials and diplomats were careful not to reveal much about the alliance’s nuclear strategy, stressing that it is safer and more effective to say less, not more, about NATO’s planning and training.

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And yet Macron decided to share some of France’s nuclear thinking, telling French media Wednesday that a ballistic nuclear attack on Ukraine would not yield a French response.

France traditionally cuts its own path in nuclear doctrine and does not participate in NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group, despite being the only nuclear-armed power in the European Union. Still, it is highly unusual for the leader of a NATO country to riff about possible responses to the use of nukes.

NATO’s 30 members were joined in Brussels this week by Sweden and Finland, which have applied to join the alliance and for the first time were participating in a defense ministerial as “invitees,” giving them broader access to most NATO discussions.

But their membership still hinges on approval from Turkey, which has hinted that it might seek to split the Nordic neighbors by ratifying Finland’s application while demanding additional concessions from Sweden.

Mary Ilyushina in Riga, Latvia, and Ellen Francis in London contributed to this report.

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