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.
While a chorus of U.S. and European leaders condemned the attacks and declared their continued support for Ukraine, it was not clear that they would accelerate or expand their deliveries.
[Russia strikes Kyiv and cities across Ukraine after Crimea bridge attack]
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he would address an emergency virtual meeting of the Group of Seven industrialized nations on Tuesday. Ukraine’s calls for additional military aid are also set to be discussed this week at two meetings in Brussels, one involving NATO defense ministers and the other the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, a collection of about 50 countries created to provide assistance to Ukraine.
In a Monday statement, President Biden condemned “the utter brutality” of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war. The latest attacks “killed and injured civilians and destroyed targets with no military purpose,” he said, and “only further reinforce our commitment to stand with the people of Ukraine for as long as it takes.”
Zelensky later on Monday said he had a “productive conversation” with Biden on air defense.
The United States announced in early July that it would provide Ukraine with two advanced antiaircraft systems, called the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System, or NASAMS. Those are part of a stream of equipment that must be contracted and built within industry rather than taken from existing stocks. Much of the work had already been done, the Pentagon said last month. “We anticipate they should reach Ukraine within the next several weeks once the systems are ready and training is complete,” a U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said Monday.
An additional six systems “will likely take several years to procure and deliver,” the official said, part of a larger effort to bolster Ukrainian defenses.
In the interim, the United States has focused on facilitating transfer of Soviet-era air defense systems that officials plugged as already being familiar to Ukrainian troops. In April, Slovakia dispatched an S-300 system that was backfilled with a Patriot missile system operated by U.S. troops. The Pentagon said it would consult with the Slovakian government on a more permanent solution.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who said he had spoken with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, vowed in a tweet that the United States would “continue to provide unwavering economic, humanitarian and security assistance so Ukraine can defend itself and take care of its people.”
Even before the strikes Monday, Ukraine’s top officials were loudly proclaiming the need to boost air defenses.
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.”
Monday’s strikes, and Putin’s threat of more to come, helped amplify the Ukrainian argument. The country’s military said its air defenses took down 43 of the 83 missiles launched at it.
Within hours, Zelensky had held emergency phone calls with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to discuss air defense and other military aid.
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 over 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 E.U.’s leading military power, critics say.
On Monday, Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, in a video message delivered with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, said we have to “deliver air defenses from the allied side so that Ukrainians can protect their cities and civilians because Russia is definitely escalating to harming civilians.”
Ukraine is interested in air defense systems used by the French military, including the SAMP/T. Le Monde 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 aiding Ukraine appears to have struck a nerve at the Élysée Palace. As Macron met with other E.U. 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 about $230 million France had committed to military aid but far behind the more than $17 billion that the Biden administration has sent Ukraine since February.
Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), a former senior Pentagon official, said the United States should consider providing Patriot batteries and C-RAM air defense systems. C-RAMs are chain-gun batteries that fire at incoming rounds, and are typically associated with shielding U.S. bases in the Middle East from rocket, artillery and mortar fire.
“Stepping up the pace of delivery for equipment that’s already been promised is essential to protecting Ukrainian civilians who are being targeted,” Slotkin said on Twitter.
Noack reported from France, Morris from Berlin and Horton from Washington. John Hudson in Washington contributed to this report.