European countries rebuff Kyiv’s call for more air defences as Russia hammers energy grid

Zelenskiy castigates Ukraine’s western allies for ‘turning a blind eye’ following destruction of largest power plant in capital region

European capitals have rebuffed demands from Kyiv to send their air defence systems to Ukraine, after a week of relentless missile and drone bombardments from Russia that destroyed critical energy plants in the war-torn country.

Ukraine has long warned that it needed urgent air defence supplies to protect itself against an overwhelming number of Russian rockets targeting the country’s power and heating infrastructure.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy stepped up pleas this week for US-made Patriot batteries, castigating Kyiv’s western partners for “turning a blind eye” as the capital region saw the destruction of its largest power plant.

Speaking at the Three Seas summit in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius on Thursday, he said Ukraine had fallen into a “routine” in which it suffers Russian air attacks and then pleads for more air defences from western partners who promise to provide them but have failed to deliver.

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“Missiles are striking every day, and every day we hear that Ukraine will receive new air defence systems. Every day Russian terrorists cut off the electricity to Kharkiv and our other cities, and every day we hear that new aid is coming soon,” Mr Zelenskiy said. “The reality must finally match the words.”

Josep Borrell, the EU’s chief diplomat, said this week it was “inconceivable” that western countries could not provide seven extra Patriot batteries to Ukraine, given that they had about 100 in their arsenal they could spare.

Kyiv is lobbying for Patriot systems in Poland, Romania and Spain to be sent to Ukraine, two people familiar with the talks told the Financial Times.

“They only need seven,” one person said. “But it’s complicated.”

European capitals have said that they do not have plans to send more systems to Ukraine, arguing that they need to retain defence capabilities.

Germany has given two Patriot systems to Ukraine but made clear this week that it would not provide any more.

“We will not be able to offer any more systems for the time being,” the defence ministry said on Monday.

That stance has angered some in the opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Norbert Röttgen, a CDU MP and member of the Bundestag foreign affairs committee, has said Berlin could give Ukraine two more Patriot systems, especially as those lent to Poland and Slovakia had now been returned.

“That would make a real difference for the people in and around Kharkiv,” he said on X. “It would save lives.”

German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock last week told lawmakers in the Bundestag that talks were ongoing with other partners, in Europe and worldwide, to find spare Patriot systems.

“There are actors worldwide that have the systems,” she said. “They don’t want to give them directly [to Ukraine], but via third parties. That’s something we’re working on intensively to try to achieve that as quickly as possible.”

She explained that eastern European Nato countries still had defence requirements which meant that “Germany can’t and shouldn’t simply say we’re going to take this air defence system out” without consulting privately with their governments.

The Ukrainian demands have put a spotlight on strategic minimum levels of defence capabilities, and whether European Nato states would decide to drop below what they have determined is the minimum amount required to defend their states in order to send equipment to Ukraine.

“I would say that any decision on going below strategic stock levels lies heavily in the hands of our defence forces and our military and should always remain confidential,” Finland’s president Alexander Stubb said this week when asked if he thought other countries should send more weapons to Ukraine.

The Polish military has insisted it cannot spare Patriots for Ukraine at a time when it is itself waiting for US deliveries after Washington last June approved a Polish order worth $15 billion for Patriots and related equipment.

While also in Vilnius on Thursday, Polish president Andrzej Duda ruled out supplying Patriot systems. Instead, Duda said there was still a possibility it could transfer more of its Soviet-built missiles to Kyiv, without specifying which and how many.

“In Poland, we’re just starting to build the Patriot anti-missile defence system, this system in Poland is not ready yet, so we have nothing to donate, even if we wanted to,” Mr Duda said. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024

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