Firefighters work at the site of a car retailer office building, destroyed during a Russian missile attack in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine October 11, 2022. Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Handout via REUTERS
KYIV/BRUSSELS, Oct 12 (Reuters) – More than 50 Western countries met on Wednesday to promise more weapons for Ukraine, focusing on its need for air defences after Moscow launched its most intense missile strikes since the start of the war.
Opening the meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at the headquarters of NATO in Brussels, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Russia’s huge wave of missile attacks this week had laid bare the “malice and cruelty” of its war.
Ukraine had shifted the momentum in the conflict since September with “extraordinary” gains, but would need more help to keep fighting, he said.
“These victories belong to Ukraine’s brave soldiers. But the Contact Group’s security assistance, training, and sustainment efforts have been vital,” Austin said.
Russian attacks using more than 100 missiles have killed at least 26 people across Ukraine since Monday, when President Vladimir Putin ordered what he called retaliatory strikes against Ukraine for an explosion on a bridge.
Air raid sirens sounded across swaths of Ukraine for a third day on Wednesday and there were reports of some shelling, but no sign of a repeat of the intensive countrywide strikes of the previous two days.
The missiles have mostly targeted civilian electricity and heating infrastructure, while some hit busy roads, parks and tourist sites, including in the centre of Kyiv.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia’s missile attacks were a sign of weakness.
“The reality is that they’re not able to make progress on the battlefield. Russia is actually losing on the battlefield,” Stoltenberg said.
Since Monday’s attacks, Germany has sent the first of four planned IRIS-T SLM air defence systems, while Washington said it would speed up the delivery of a promised NASAMS air defence system.
EU energy ministers were also meeting in Prague to work out ways to cope with an energy crisis caused by the war.
On Wednesday, Polish pipeline operator PERN said it had detected a leak in one pipe in the Druzhba system that carries oil from Russia to Europe, though it said the cause was probably an accident.
Global attention has been focused on the security of Russian energy pipelines to Europe since the main undersea gas pipelines were damaged by suspected sabotage last month.
Western countries have not said who they blame for huge explosions that blew holes in the two Nord Stream 1 pipelines and one of two pipes that make up the new Nord Stream 2 project, but have implied they believe it was Russia.
Putin said on Wednesday gas could now be delivered through the remaining undamaged Nord Stream 2 pipe, but it was up to Europe to allow it. The new pipeline, completed but never opened, has been suspended by Germany since the invasion. Gazprom boss Alexei Miller said fixing the damaged pipes would take more than a year.
As his forces have lost ground on the battlefield since September, Putin has escalated the conflict, ordering the call-up of hundreds of thousands of reservists, proclaiming the annexation of occupied Ukrainian territory and repeatedly threatening to use nuclear weapons to protect Russia.
U.S. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday he doubted Putin would use a nuclear weapon.
Putin is a “rational actor who has miscalculated significantly”, Biden said in a CNN interview, saying he believed the Russian president wrongly expected his invading troops to be welcomed.
Asked how realistic he believed it would be for Putin to use a tactical nuclear weapon, Biden responded: “Well, I don’t think he will.”
NATO’s Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday the military alliance had not noticed any change in Russia’s nuclear posture.
In the latest reports from the battlefield, the Ukrainian governor of partially occupied Donetsk province said seven people were killed in Russian shelling of a market in the frontline town of Avdiivka.
Ukraine’s military said its forces drove Russian troops out of several settlements on the west bank of the Dnipro River, near the Russian-occupied town of Beryslav in the Kherson region.
The Ukrainians broke through Russia’s front line in the area at the start of October and have been advancing to try to cut off thousands of Russian troops from supply and escape routes across the river.
Russian news media reported explosions in Kherson and Melitopol in Russian-occupied southern Ukraine.
Also in the south, Russian missiles destroyed buildings in the Zaporizhzhia region overnight though there were no reports of casualties, regional Governor Oleksandr Starukh said.
Video footage released by Ukrainian emergency services showed a family being rescued from the rubble of a flattened building following what it said was a missile strike in Zaporizhzhi. Reuters could not independently verify the location of the video or date it was filmed.
Ukraine’s sixth largest city, Zaporizhzhia is still controlled by Ukraine although Moscow claims to have annexed the entire surrounding province. The city has come under nightly Russian attacks since the annexation proclamation, including at least three apartment blocks destroyed while residents slept. Starukh said at least 70 people have been killed this month.
With air raid sirens sounding over Kyiv for a third consecutive day, residents cleaned up after the earlier strikes.
“It is not that they are fighting the military, they are just driven by the desire to destroy, destroy, to destroy us,” said Yulia Datsenko, a 38-year-old paramedic, as she surveyed the damage to her apartment.
Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Stephen Coates and Peter Graff; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Alex Richardson
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