Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has asked G7 leaders to supply more air defence systems and for an international monitoring mission on the Belarusian border, as Russia continued to attack key infrastructure in Ukraine with a new wave of missile strikes on Tuesday.
Zelenskiy’s comments came amid warnings from the UN and some Nato countries that Moscow may be committing a war crime with its continuing deadly blitz on civilian targets.
Warning that the Russian president “still has room for further escalation”, Zelenskiy added that the prompt supply of more air defence systems would accelerate the end of the war.
“When Ukraine receives a sufficient quantity of modern and effective air defence systems, the key element of Russia’s terror, rocket strikes, will cease to work,” Zelenskiy said in a video-streamed address.
The White House national security council spokesman, John Kirby, said the US was working to expedite the shipment of sophisticated Nasams air defences capable of engaging Russian cruise missiles that was first announced in August. Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine reported on Tuesday that Ukraine had received a delivery of the German Iris-T air defence system.
While Zelenskiy had been expected to press for additional air defence systems to counter the Russian missile threat, and renewed his call for more sanctions against Moscow, his request for international monitoring of Ukraine’s border with Belarus comes amid mounting fears that Minsk is being drawn ever further into the Kremlin’s war.
Belarus’s dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, on Monday announced his country was joining a joint regional military command with Russia, after allowing Belarus to be used for staging military attacks on Ukraine in its 24 February invasion.
Zelenskiy said: “On the border of Ukraine and Belarus, we can place a mission of international observers to monitor the security situation. The format can be worked out by our diplomats. I ask you, on the level of the G7, to support this initiative.”
In response to Zelenskiy’s speech, G7 leaders issued a statement saying they would “stand firmly with Ukraine for as long as it takes”.
The latest diplomacy took place against a background of continuing mass strikes in Ukraine that Kyiv’s allies said was a mark of Moscow’s desperation. Russia said on Tuesday that it continued to launch long-range airstrikes on Ukraine’s energy and military infrastructure.
“The purpose of the strike has been achieved. All designated facilities have been hit,” the defence ministry said. A Kremlin spokesperson said western deliveries of air defence systems would only extend the conflict and mean more pain for Ukraine.
Moscow meanwhile dangled the possibility of bilateral diplomatic talks with the US president, Joe Biden.
The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said on Tuesday that Moscow was open to talks with the west on the Ukraine war but had yet to receive any serious proposal to negotiate, in comments that also seemed designed to play down the prospect of Russia’s use of nuclear weapons.
Lavrov said Russia would not turn down a meeting between Vladimir Putin, and Biden at a forthcoming G20 meeting and would consider the proposal if it received one. The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, who has been seen as more friendly to the Kremlin than other EU leaders, told a panel discussion in Berlin on Tuesday that he believed Biden had been too strident in his criticisms of Putin “to make peace” and only former US president Donald Trump could end the war.
Putin will also meet the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, on Thursday, telling reporters it was “possible” the two leaders would discuss a Turkish proposal to host talks between Russia and the west on peace in Ukraine.
Kirby said Zelenskiy would determine the terms of negotiations with Russia, not the US.
The spokesman for the national security council added that the US was continually watching Russian nuclear facilities for any sign that Putin could be preparing to use those weapons. “We monitor his capabilities as best we can, and we have been, quite frankly, since the beginning of the conflict,” he told reporters.
“We take these threats seriously. He’s now commented more than once in just the last week or so. And we know that he knows his military is under increasing pressure inside Ukraine, so all of that makes it imperative that we continue to monitor those capabilities as best we can.
“We’ve seen no indication, nothing, that tells us Mr Putin has made a decision to use nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction at all inside Ukraine and we’ve seen no indication that the Russian apparatus is moving anything to prepare for that kind of decision.”
As Russian ships and strategic bombers operating over the Caspian Sea and elsewhere continued to launch cruise missiles on Ukrainian cities, in addition to strikes by kamikaze drones and other rockets, a spokesperson for the UN office of the high commissioner for human rights, Ravina Shamdasani, warned the recent Russian attacks “amount to a war crime”.
“Damage to key power stations and lines ahead of the upcoming winter raises further concerns for the protection of civilians and in particular the impact on vulnerable populations.
“Attacks targeting civilians and objects indispensable to the survival of civilians are prohibited under international humanitarian law. We have to stress that intentionally directing attacks against civilians and civilian objects – that is objects which are not military objectives – amount to a war crime.”
The UN’s message was amplified by 11 members of Nato’s eastern flank on Tuesday, which called Russia’s recent bombing blitz across Ukraine a war crime, adding that any nuclear threats were “unacceptable”.
“We condemn the mass bombardments of Ukrainian cities recently carried out by Russia, which constitute war crimes under international law,” said the joint statement released by the Polish president’s office.
Moscow’s forces rained down more than 80 missiles on cities across Ukraine on Monday, with Ukraine’s emergency services saying on Tuesday that the overall death toll had risen to 19 dead with more than 100 people wounded.
More strikes continued on Tuesday, with the Ukrainian air force saying Russian Tu-95 and Tu-160 bombers operating over the Caspian Sea had launched about 28 cruise missiles on Ukraine claiming to have intercepted 20 of them.
While the capital, Kyiv, was quiet on Tuesday, Russian missiles struck a number of other cities, including hitting power and water facilities in the western city of Lviv for a second day running, after 90% of power was knocked out on Monday for part of the day.
On Tuesday, the city’s mayor, Andriy Sadovyi, wrote on the Telegram messaging app that a fresh attack had cut power again to a large part of Lviv.
Once again one of the worst-hit locations was the southern city of Zaporizhzhia, where Ukraine’s state emergency service said 12 S-300 missiles had slammed into public facilities, setting off a large fire in the area, adding that at least one person was killed in the attack early on Tuesday.
The S-300 was originally designed as a long-range surface-to-air missile. Russia has increasingly resorted to using repurposed versions of the weapon to strike targets on the ground.