By Sabine Siebold, John Irish and Humeyra Pamuk
BUCHAREST (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – NATO allies said on Tuesday they would help Ukraine repair energy infrastructure badly damaged by Russian bombing in what the NATO chief said Moscow was using the oncoming winter cold as a “weapon of war”.
Russia has carried out heavy rocket attacks on Ukraine’s power grid and heating infrastructure roughly every week since October, in what Kiev and its allies are calling a deliberate campaign to harm civilians, a war crime. Russia acknowledges attacking Ukrainian infrastructure, but denies deliberately trying to harm civilians.
“Russia is using brutal missile and drone strikes to leave Ukraine cold and dark this winter,” NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said as the alliance’s foreign ministers wrapped up the first of two days of talks in the capital of Romania, Bucharest.
“President (Vladimir) Putin is trying to use winter as a weapon of war to force Ukrainians to freeze or flee. He is trying to break the will of the brave Ukrainian people and divide all of us who support them,” he added.
Stoltenberg was echoed by British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, who accused Putin of targeting civilian and energy infrastructure “to try to freeze Ukrainians into submission”.
NATO foreign ministers pledged to step up political and practical support to Ukraine and to maintain it for as long as necessary.
“Russia’s aggression, including its persistent and unreasonable attacks on Ukraine’s civilian and energy infrastructure, is depriving millions of Ukrainians of basic human services,” they said in a statement.
‘PATRIOTS AND TRANSFORMERS’
Ukraine has urged its Western partners to supply it with air defense systems and transformers to blunt Russian attacks.
“If we have transformers and generators, we can restore our energy needs. If we have air defense systems, we can protect ourselves from the next Russian missile attacks,” said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. “Simply put: patriots and transformers are what Ukraine needs most.”
Stoltenberg said the Allies were discussing supplying Patriot air defense units but warned that the systems delivered needed to be effective, maintained and supplied with sufficient ammunition, which was in itself a “major challenge”.
The United States has announced that it will provide $53 million to purchase power grid equipment for Ukraine.
“This equipment will be delivered to Ukraine expeditiously in an emergency to help Ukrainians persevere through the winter,” said a State Department statement, adding that the package would include distribution transformers, circuit breakers and surge arresters among the other equipment.
Foreign ministers also reaffirmed a decision from the 2008 NATO summit that Ukraine would become a member of the alliance. But, as in 2008, there were no concrete steps or times that would actually bring the country closer to NATO.
“We have declared that Ukraine will become a member, I expect the Allies to reiterate that position,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at the start of the two-day meeting.
“However, the main focus now is to support Ukraine. We are in the midst of a war and therefore we shouldn’t do anything that would undermine the unity of allies to provide military, humanitarian and financial support to Ukraine.”
‘KEEP CALM AND GIVE TANKS’
NATO is also pushing arms makers to speed up production, but a European diplomat said there were growing problems with supply capacity.
Emphasizing the point of view of the Baltic states, which have been at the forefront of support for Kiev, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis urged NATO to press ahead with tank deliveries, saying the alliance had plenty to spare. sell.
“My message to fellow foreign ministers at today’s NATO meeting is simple: keep calm and give tanks,” he tweeted, displaying an image of a Ukrainian flag with a tank in the centre.
Western powers have been reluctant to go down that route for fear it could increase the risk of direct conflict with Russia.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold, John Irish, Humeyra Pamuk and Luiza Illie in Bucharest, Tom Balmforth in Kyiv and Simon Lewis in Washington and Jason Hovet in Prague; Screenplay by Sabine Siebold, John Irish and Ingrid Melander; Editing by Ed Osmond, Gareth Jones , Alexandra Hudson and Mark Heinrich)
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