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Zelensky, partners meet in Brussels to boost military support for Ukraine ahead of winter

by Martin Fornusek and The Kyiv Independent news desk October 11, 2023 3:18 PM 4 min read
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky (L) is welcomed by Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg at NATO's headquarters in Brussels on Oct. 11, 2023. (Simon Wolfhart/AFP via Getty Images)
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Ukrainian leaders and NATO defense ministers have convened in Brussels on Oct. 11 for a two-day summit to mobilize allied support for Kyiv ahead of the coming winter.

In a surprise visit, President Volodymyr Zelensky arrived at NATO headquarters this morning as alliance officials prepare for the 16th Ramstein-format meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group and a session of the Ukraine-NATO Council, and the first with Zelensky physically present.

Several of Ukraine's main defense partners announced major new military aid packages for Ukraine, including Belgium, which joined Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway in the so-called "fighter jet coalition," pledged to deliver an unspecified number of F-16 combat aircraft to Ukraine starting from 2025.

In a short press conference together with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Zelensky said he planned to discuss a variety of issues but stressed that one of the priorities remains air defense systems in anticipation of a new campaign of Russian missile strikes against Ukrainian energy infrastructure over winter.

On Sept. 21, Russian forces launched its first mass strike against Ukraine's energy infrastructure in six months. Ukrainian officials warned that Russia will seek to cripple the country's power grid with large-scale attacks, as it had attempted during the fall and winter of 2022-2023.

Stoltenberg emphasized the importance of reinforcing Ukraine's air defense capabilities, as they are critical in protecting "cities, economy, and critical infrastructure."

"This will help Ukraine to produce, trade, to function as a normal country, and that will increase their ability to finance and provide ammunition themselves," Stoltenberg said.

Stoltenberg warned that Putin plans to use the winter as a "weapon of war," and NATO allies are working to prevent that through air defense support.

"We have now $2.4 billion in what we call forward contracts for increased ammunition production, out of which $1 billion is firm contracts, and we are constantly working on ramping up production."

According to Stoltenberg, individual allied countries are expected to present new assistance packages during the summit.

Ahead of the Brussels meeting, Germany's Defense Ministry announced a "winter" aid package for Ukraine worth around $1 billion, including an additional Patriot air defense system, as well as IRIS-T and Gepard air defenses.

Following his talks with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in Bucharest on Oct. 10, Zelensky also touted new military aid from Romania, which is said to focus on artillery and air defense.

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The U.S. and the U.K. have also presented new aid packages.

According to U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Washington will provide Ukraine with $200 million worth of security support in the latest tranche, containing air defense ammunition, artillery, and other equipment.

Austin also said that the allies are working to establish new "capability coalitions," akin to the "fighter jet coalition," to coordinate the provision of specific defense capacities to Ukraine.

"But now we're taking this concept a little further. We're asking countries to create coalitions focused on broader opportunities that go beyond specific platforms," the defense secretary added.

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London is readying a new defense assistance package of $123 million, encompassing demining, vehicle maintenance, and fortification equipment. The U.K. has also joined the allied effort in reinforcing Ukraine's air defenses.

"During my recent visit to Kyiv, I assured President Zelensky that the U.K.'s support for Ukraine and their most urgent needs is unwavering," U.K. Defense Secretary Grant Shapps said.

"Today, I am proud to announce that the U.K., alongside our allies, is delivering on that promise with new contracts to provide Ukraine with critical air defense systems to protect civilians from Putin's barbaric bombing campaign."

Zelensky is also expected to meet Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo to discuss the provision of the F-16s to Ukraine.

Apart from the jet fighters, the talks between the two leaders will focus on the reconstruction efforts in Ukraine, Zelensky said. The president pointed out that Russian assets frozen at Western banks could be used to finance Ukraine's recovery.

U.S. State Secretary Antony Blinken announced last week that the U.S. and the EU are working on legal procedures to transfer over $300 billion in frozen Russian assets to Ukraine for that purpose.

The summit will also address other common security issues aside from Ukraine. NATO representatives are expected to discuss the recent Hamas attack against Israel or the reported sabotage of an underwater gas pipeline and a communications cable between Finland and Estonia.

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