Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appealed for more air defence systems on Wednesday and appeared to get his wish with NATO countries agreeing to additional support in the face of Russia’s invasion.
“Air defence systems are primarily among the things we lack,” Zelensky said after a meeting with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda in Vilnius, on the first of a two-day trip to the Baltics.
Zelensky said Russia fired at least 500 missiles and drones at Ukraine in the final days of 2023 and the first days of 2024 in a clear escalation of the near two-year war. Some 70% of these were intercepted by Ukraine’s air defences.
At a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council later in Brussels, allies discussed billions of dollars of extra help against Kremlin autocrat Vladimir Putin.
But what exactly was promised initially remained open, although NATO cited additional air defence as one example of promised assistance.
Ukraine’s allies are currently procuring up to 1,000 Patriot air defence missiles via NATO to replenish stocks given to Ukraine and some of these will also be given to Kiev.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement: “For a second year in a row, Putin is trying to wear down Ukraine with mass strikes, but he will not succeed. Russia’s campaign of cruelty only strengthens Ukraine’s resolve.
“As Moscow intensifies its strikes on Ukrainian cities and civilians, NATO allies are boosting Ukraine’s air defences. We will continue to stand by the brave Ukrainians as they push back against Russia’s war of aggression.”
According to NATO, the allies also condemned Russia’s deployment of ballistic missiles from North Korea and drones from Iran.
The European Union is also moving forward with plans for billions of euros in new aid to Ukraine, despite opposition from Hungary.
Representatives of member states decided by a majority vote in Brussels to start negotiations with the European Parliament on aid plans, several diplomats told dpa.
In Vilnius, Nausėda assured Zelensky of his country’s continued military, economic and political support, saying Lithuania will send ammunition, generators and armoured personnel carriers soon.
Lithuania, which borders the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad and Russia’s ally Belarus, is one of Kiev’s key supporters. According to Nauseda, the government has approved a long-term plan for military aid worth around €200 million ($219 million).
In his and Zelensky’s presence, several agreements were signed by representatives of the respective defence industries.
Zelensky is next set to travel to the two other Baltic EU and NATO members, Latvia and Estonia.
With his visit, Zelensky said he wanted to thank the countries for their “uncompromising support for Ukraine.”
“Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are our reliable friends and principled partners,” Zelensky wrote on social media before landing in Vilnius.
“Security, EU and NATO integration, cooperation on electronic warfare and drones, and further coordination of European support are all on the agenda.”
Zelensky last visited Lithuania in July 2023. At that time, he took part in a NATO summit and gave a speech to a crowd of thousands.
Former Soviet republics Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia are among the most determined advocates of Ukraine, providing Kiev with military, financial and humanitarian support.
They are also pushing for tougher sanctions on Moscow at the EU level and more arms deliveries to Kiev.
Zelensky said in Vilnius he felt no pressure from allies to freeze the war along the current front line. He said Putin’s vow to occupy all of Ukraine must be taken seriously.
If his country did not stand firm, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia or Moldova would be the next countries at risk, he said.
Zelensky called for joint resistance against Putin: “He will not stop until we finish him off.”