Ukraine strikes raise pressure on Western allies for air defense systems

BRUSSELS — The string of strikes against Ukrainian cities and key infrastructure on Monday galvanized long-standing calls from the government to its allies for more sophisticated air defense systems and longer-range weapons.

The Russian attacks appeared to signal a significant escalation, raising pressure on the United States and other European countries that have been reluctant to provide Ukraine with the latest in military technology.

In a bid to avoid direct military conflict with Russia, Western allies have been slow to provide Ukrainian forces with the most advanced weapons systems — a trend that has persisted even as the Kremlin has repeatedly declared that its fight is not just with Ukraine, but against the United States and NATO.

Within hours of the strikes, Zelensky held emergency phone calls with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to discuss air defense and other military aid. Zelensky said he will address an emergency meeting of the Group of Seven industrialized nations on Tuesday.

Russia strikes Kyiv and cities across Ukraine after Crimea bridge attack

Amid the rush of diplomacy, Russian President Vladimir Putin effectively made Zelensky’s case for air defense by threatening additional strikes.

“The best response to Russian missile terror is the supply of anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems to Ukraine — protect the sky over Ukraine!” Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov tweeted Monday. “This will protect our cities and our people. This will protect the future of Europe.”

Even before the strikes Monday, the country’s top officials were loudly proclaiming the need to boost air defenses.

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted Sunday after Russian attacks on Zaporizhzhia that “we urgently need more modern air defense and missile defense systems to save innocent lives. I urge partners to speed up deliveries.”

Presidential adviser Mykhailo Podoliak tweeted that “instead of talking we need air defense, MLRS, longer-range projectiles,” referring to multiple-launch rocket systems.

Estonia’s intelligence chief urged Western countries to heed the calls and consider sending longer-range weapons to Ukraine. “We have a self-interest in giving Ukraine what they ask for,” Mikk Marran said in a Yahoo News interview published Sunday.

Ukraine’s military said that in Monday’s attack, its air defenses took down 43 of the 83 missiles launched at it.

The German Defense Ministry said Monday that the first of four IRIS-T air defense systems promised to Ukraine would arrive in the “next few days,” and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Germany is doing “everything we can” to quickly reinforce Ukraine.

“Residents of Kyiv in fear of death in the morning traffic. An impact crater next to a playground,” she tweeted. “It is vile & unjustifiable that Putin is firing rockets at cities and civilians.”

The scene after Russia’s strikes across Ukraine

In the phone call with Zelensky on Monday morning, Macron pledged increased support for Ukraine, including more military equipment, but there are growing questions about the extent to which the French are actually living up to their promises.

A recent ranking by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy concluded that France has spent less on announced weapons deliveries to Ukraine than much smaller European nations like Estonia and the Czech Republic. Overall, France ranked as only the 11th-biggest global supplier of Ukrainian military aid by August — a “humiliating” result for a country that views itself as the EU’s leading military power, critics say.

Ukraine is interested in air defense systems used by the French military, including the SAMP/T. The Le Monde newspaper reported that one reason for France’s hesitation has been that the country has a limited stock of the necessary batteries.

French government officials have defended the extent of their support, citing “discretion” and suggesting that they have not disclosed all their supplies. They have also argued that their deliveries — including 18 highly accurate CAESAR self-propelled howitzer cannons — have been key additions on the battlefield. France is in negotiations to divert additional CAESAR cannons that were originally ordered by Denmark to Ukraine.

But the criticism that France has fallen behind smaller allies in helping Ukraine appears to have struck a nerve at the Élysée Palace in recent days. As Macron met with other EU leaders in Prague on Friday, he announced the creation of a 100 million euro ($97 million) fund that will allow Ukraine to buy its own military equipment.

The fund is in addition to around $230 million France had committed to military aid but far behind the more than $17 billion that the Biden administration has sent to Ukraine since February.

The Pentagon said in late September that it will deliver two advanced antiaircraft systems, called the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System, or NASAMS, within the next two months — something Ukraine had long been asking for.

Noack reported from France, Morris from Berlin.

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

The latest: Russian President Vladimir Putin signed decrees Friday to annex four occupied regions of Ukraine, following staged referendums that were widely denounced as illegal. Follow our live updates here.

The response: The Biden administration on Friday announced a new round of sanctions on Russia, in response to the annexations, targeting government officials and family members, Russian and Belarusian military officials and defense procurement networks. President Volodymyr Zelensky also said Friday that Ukraine is applying for “accelerated ascension” into NATO, in an apparent response to the annexations.

In Russia: Putin declared a military mobilization on Sept. 21 to call up as many as 300,000 reservists in a dramatic bid to reverse setbacks in his war on Ukraine. The announcement led to an exodus of more than 180,000 people, mostly men who were subject to service, and renewed protests and other acts of defiance against the war.

The fight: Ukraine mounted a successful counteroffensive that forced a major Russian retreat in the northeastern Kharkiv region in early September, as troops fled cities and villages they had occupied since the early days of the war and abandoned large amounts of military equipment.

Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground since the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.

How you can help: Here are ways those in the US can support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.

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