By Max Hunder and Jonathan Landay
KYIV (Reuters) – US-led NATO said on Tuesday its member states were boosting security around key installations as Russia escalated its attacks on Ukraine and stepped up threats against the West.
Russian missiles pounded Ukraine for a second day, after dozens of air raids across the country on Monday that killed 19 people, wounded more than 100 and knocked out power supplies.
Moscow has annexed new tracts of Ukraine, mobilized hundreds of thousands of Russians to fight and repeatedly threatened to use nuclear weapons in recent weeks, spreading alarm in the West. A European diplomat said NATO was considering convening a virtual summit of the Western defense alliance to consider its response.
NATO was closely monitoring Russia’s nuclear forces, but had not seen any change in its nuclear posture, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels.
The allies were increasing security around critical infrastructure after attacks on gas pipelines running under the Baltic Sea and any deliberate attack would be met with a “united and determined response”, he said. It is still unclear who was behind the recent explosions.
More missile strikes killed at least one person in the southeastern Ukrainian town of Zaporizhzhia and left part of the western city of Lviv without power, local officials said. Air raid sirens wailed across Ukraine earlier for a second day.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, under domestic pressure to ramp up the seven-month war as his forces have lost ground since early September, said he had ordered the strikes as revenge for a blast that damaged Russia’s bridge to annexed Crimea.
Kyiv and its allies have condemned the attacks, which mainly hit civil infrastructure such as power stations but also landed in parks, tourist sites and busy rush hour streets.
The White House said US President Joe Biden and other G7 leaders met virtually on Tuesday to discuss what more they could do to support Ukraine and they listened to President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has called air defense systems his “number 1 priority”.
Biden has already promised more air defenses, a pledge that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said would extend the conflict.
The broad avenues of the capital Kyiv were largely deserted on Tuesday after air raid sirens resounded at the start of the morning rush hour – the same time that Russian missiles struck on Monday. Residents took cover again deep in the underground Metro, where trains were still running.
Viktoriya Moshkivski, 35, and her family were among hundreds of people waiting for the all-clear in the Zoloti Vorota station, near a park where a missile ripped a crater next to a playground on Monday.
“(Putin) thinks that if he scares the population, he can ask for concessions, but he is not scaring us. He is pissing us off,” she said as her sons, Timur, 5, and Rinat, 3, sat by her side on a sleeping bag, the younger playing with a King Kong action figure.
Russia said it continued to launch long-range air strikes on Ukraine’s energy and military infrastructure on Tuesday, although the attacks did not seem as intense as the day before.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the main targets were energy facilities in a campaign he said had been planned well in advance and was designed to make life unbearable for civilians.
“They’ve hit many yesterday and they hit the same and new ones today,” he wrote on Twitter. Hundreds of settlements around Kyiv, Lviv and elsewhere were still without power on Tuesday, Deputy Interior Minister Yevheny Yenin told a briefing.
The governor of the southern town of Mykolayiv said Russia was firing enough to keep people in shelters. “What is this if not terror?” he said on national television.
In Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine’s sixth-largest city, apartment blocks have been struck overnight at least three times in the past week, killing civilians while they slept. Moscow has denied intentionally targeting them.
The city has remained under Ukrainian control after Russia occupied most of the surrounding province, among four partially occupied regions that Moscow claims to have annexed this month.
In an overnight video address from the scene of one of the attacks in Kyiv, Zelensky promised Ukraine would keep fighting.
“We will do everything to strengthen our armed forces. We will make the battlefield more painful for the enemy.”
G7 leaders may also warn Belarus, Moscow’s closest ally, after Minsk said on Monday it was deploying soldiers with Russian forces near Ukraine in response to what it called a threat from Kyiv and its Western allies.
Belarus, whose troops have not yet crossed into Ukraine, could face more sanctions if it gets more involved, French Foreign Affairs Minister Catherine Colonna told French radio.
Russia violated the rules of war with Monday’s attacks, she added.
Moscow has accused the West of escalating the conflict by supporting Ukraine.
“We warn and hope that they realize the danger of uncontrolled escalation in Washington and other Western capitals,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying by RIA news agency on Tuesday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia would not turn down a meeting between Putin and Biden at a forthcoming G20 meeting and would consider the proposal if it receives one.
Putin on Tuesday met the president of the United Arab Emirates, a member of the group of oil producers known as OPEC+ that rebuffed the United States last week by announcing steep production cuts.
State news agency WAM had said President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan would push for “military de-escalation”.
The Kremlin also said Putin would meet on Thursday with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who has offered to host peace talks.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Andrew Osborne, Peter Graff and Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Nick Macfie and Gareth Jones)