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NATO, Kyiv allies talk on bolstering Ukraine air defense

October 12, 2022

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has told a group of Ukraine's allies that air defense is a priority for the country as Russian missiles hit civilian targets.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin shakes hands with Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov
The US has spearheaded efforts to provide defense to Ukraine Image: Stephanie Lecoq/REUTERS

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday told a meeting of countries providing arms to Ukraine that more air defense was needed to protect Ukrainian cities from increased Russian missile attacks.

"We will address how to ramp up support for Ukraine, and the top priority will be more air defense for Ukraine," Stoltenberg said.

Stoltenberg said the defense alliance was confronting a "pivotal moment for our security."

The meeting in Brussels of the so-called Ukraine Defense Contact Group was followed by a gathering of NATO defense ministers and comes two days after Russian forces fired a hail of missiles that killed more than a dozen people in cities across Ukraine, including the capital, Kyiv.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin accused Russia of putting "targets with no military purpose in the crosshairs."

NATO leader Stoltenberg told those gathered, "We need to scale up to be able to help Ukraine defend even more cities and more territory against the horrific Russian attacks against their civilian populations."

The Ukraine Defense Contact Group, instigated by the US during a summit at Ramstein Air Base in Germany this April, consists of 50 countries, including the 30 NATO countries.

The ensuing NATO meeting was the military alliance's first big gathering since Moscow escalated its war on Ukraine by illegally annexing four of its territories, announcing a partial mobilization and issuing not-so-veiled threats to deploy nuclear weapons.

The NATO ministers were set to kick off their talks with a dinner on Wednesday, then hold a first official session on nuclear planning on Thursday. 

They are expected to discuss NATO's own nuclear capabilities in the run up to annual nuclear training exercises.

It is expected that NATO ministers will also discuss increasing munitions stockpiles and other equipment to deter further Russian aggression. They are seeking to find a balance between supplying Ukraine and maintaining their own defense capabilities after depleting stockpiles to aid Ukraine.

"This has been the right thing to do, but of course, we need to address how to refill those stocks," said Stoltenberg.

Berlin condemns Russian attacks

Kyiv appeals for help

Kyiv has stepped up its calls for Western allies to bolster its air defense capacities amid the Russian attacks.

When asked what he hoped for from the meetings, Ukraine's defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said: "Air defense systems." 

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the Ukraine Defense Contact Group would "continue to boost Ukraine's defensive capabilities" both in the short and the long term.

The commitment to support Ukraine "extends through all seasons," Austin said.

Austin also praised what he called Ukraine's "extraordinary" gains since September, while saying that the country's allies had also made a major contribution. 

"These victories belong to Ukraine's brave soldiers. But the Contact Group's security assistance, training, and sustainment efforts have been vital," Austin said.

Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren underscored the Western commitment to aid Ukraine by announcing that the Netherlands would provide Kyiv with more anti-aircraft missiles, saying, "The only result [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is achieving with this [continued attacks on Ukraine] is that we are going to deliver even more."

Air defense for Ukraine: A game changer?

Air defense on the way

Germany on Tuesday delivered the first of four IRIS-T air defense systems to Ukraine,  though plans for the German delivery predated the recent Russian attacks.

German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said that three more of the IRIS-T systems will be delivered next year. 

The US Department of Defense said it planned to deliver the first two advanced NASAMS anti-aircraft systems to Ukraine in the coming weeks.

The systems will provide medium- to long-range defense against missile attacks.

DW's Teri Schultz said from Brussels that the latest wave of Russian attacks had made NATO aware that Kyiv's calls for more air defense were more than justified but that there could nonetheless be delays in supplying such weapons.

"These are complicated systems. They take a long time to manufacture; they take a long time to deliver," she said.

Schultz said that though there were some differences between countries as to the extent of support, there was little division between allies on their resolve to show Russia that there will be 30 allies "standing by Ukraine as long as it takes."

Air defense systems also in short supply in West: defense journalist

js,tj/wmr (Reuters, AFP)