By LORNE COOK (Associated Press)
BRUSSELS (AP) — Ukraine on Tuesday renewed its appeal to Western countries for fighter jets to help frustrate Moscow’s invasion, as senior defense officials from the United States and its NATO allies said the war with Russia is approaching a critical stage.
With the war set to enter its second year at the end of next week, the Ukraine contact group met at NATO headquarters in Brussels and Ukraine made its requirements clear.
Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, when asked what military aid his country is seeking now, showed reporters an image of a fighter jet.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pushed hard for combat planes last week when he visited London, Paris and Brussels on just his second foreign trip since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, 2022. His plea came days after Western allies pledged to provide Kyiv with tanks.
Moscow’s forces have been pressing in the east of Ukraine while bolstering their defensive lines in the south. The war has been largely static during the winter months, though both sides are expected to launch offensives when the weather improves.
Putin was hoping Western support for Kyiv would fizzle out, allowing him to charge ahead, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told the meeting.
But Austin said the contact group would “help Ukraine hold an advance during the spring counteroffensive” and would keep planning for Kyiv’s long-term needs.
“Today’s meeting comes at a critical time,” Austin said. “The Kremlin is still betting that it can wait us out.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, asked when he expects Russia’s so-called spring offensive to begin, said that “the reality is that we have seen the start already.”
“For me, this just highlights the importance of timing. It’s urgent to provide Ukraine with more weapons,” he told reporters in Brussels.
Norwegian Defense Minister Bjørn Arild Gram, announcing his country would provide eight Leopard 2 tanks and support vehicles to Ukraine, added: “The situation in Ukraine is approaching a critical phase and they are dependent on rapid and comprehensive Western support.”
The possibility of sending combat aircraft to Ukraine is still being discussed. The United States has said no to sending fighter jets for Ukraine, but the United Kingdom is assessing the possibility and, on Tuesday, Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said providing jets “has to be part of the consideration.”
Another issue occupying the minds of NATO allies is how to keep up a steady supply of ammunition to Ukraine without depleting their own stockpiles.
According to some estimates, Ukraine is firing up to 6,000-7,000 artillery shells each day, around a third of the daily amount that Russia is using.
Stoltenberg warned Monday that Ukraine is using up ammunition much faster than its allies can supply it.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said that finding ammunition and air defenses is “much more important at the moment than the discussion about fighter jets.”
Pistorius told reporters that getting pilots up to speed on new aircraft and “training just to fly them takes several months, never mind teaching the abilities needed to deploy the weapons systems.”
He said Ukraine’s partners “should focus on what is now at center stage, particularly in view of a Russian offensive that is apparently taking place.”
He said Germany has signed a deal to produce ammunition for self-propelled, anti-aircraft guns it provided to Ukraine, after Kyiv ran into problems finding munitions elsewhere.
That ammunition is crucial for Kyiv to counter Russian attacks, especially on Ukraine’s power infrastructure aimed at disrupting heating and drinking water supply.
However, the Russians appear short on resources for any major offensive at the moment, the U.K. Ministry of Defense said Tuesday.
“Overall, the current operational picture suggests that Russian forces are being given orders to advance in most sectors, but that they have not massed sufficient offensive combat power on any one axis to achieve a decisive effect,” it tweeted.
Stoltenberg said that NATO sees “no sign whatsoever that President Putin is preparing for peace” and that arming Ukraine more quickly could save lives by bringing a quicker end to the conflict.
In Ukraine, the country’s presidential office said Tuesday Russian shelling killed at least three civilians and wounded another eight over the previous 24 hours as fighting continued in the south and east.
Russian forces shelled 17 towns and villages in the Donetsk region. Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said. “The Russians are destroying everything in their path,” he said.
Ukraine officials also reported intense shelling and air strikes in Luhansk province, while in the south Russian forces shelled the city of Kherson 13 times over 24 hours, destroying a railway and residential buildings.
Tara Copp in Brussels contributed to this story.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
Source: Read Full Article
Jonathan Grace, of Colorado, charged in U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6
Fidelity again marks down its Twitter shares
The Block lays off a third of staffers amid leadership shakeup
Putin calling up 147,000 men from tomorrow as battlefield slaughter intensifies
Wagner convict granted pardon for serving in Ukraine accused of murder