Nato to increase number of forces from 40,000 to more than 300,000, says Stoltenberg

Russian forces turn sights to Lysychansk in battle for country’s east as Moscow-backed separatists make gains

Nato will increase the number of its forces at high readiness massively to more than 300,000, its secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday.

“We will transform the Nato response force and increase the number of our high readiness forces to well over 300,000,” he told reporters ahead of a Nato summit in Madrid later this week in Madrid.

Nato’s quick reaction force, the Nato response force, so far has some 40,000 troops.

At the Madrid summit, NATO will also change its language on Russia that in the alliance’s last strategy from 2010 was still described as a strategic partner.

“That will not be the case in the strategic concept that we will agree in Madrid,” Stoltenberg said.

“I expect that allies will state clearly that Russia poses a direct threat to our security, to our values, to the rules-based international order.

Strike on Kyiv

Earlier on Monday, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy told leaders of the Group of Seven leading industrial democracies that he wanted Russia’s war in Ukraine ended by the end of the year before the winter sets in, two European Union diplomats said.

Mr Zelenskiy addressed the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States by video link on Monday, the second day of the three-day G7 summit in southern Germany.

Russian forces were fighting on Monday to capture Lysychansk, the last major city still held by Ukrainian troops in eastern Luhansk province, after Moscow-backed separatists said they were advancing on multiple fronts.

In a victory for Kremlin’s campaign, Lysychansk’s twin city of Severodonetsk, the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting, fell to pro-Russian forces on Saturday. Russian missiles also struck Kyiv for the first time in weeks on Sunday, attacks condemned by US president Joe Biden as “barbarism”.

Tass news agency on Sunday quoted a separatist official as saying Moscow's forces had entered Lysychansk from five directions and were isolating Ukrainian defenders.

Reuters could not confirm the report.

The general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said Russian forces were using artillery to try to cut off Lysychansk from the south but made no mention of separatists entering the city.

Russian assault aircraft struck near Lysychansk, the general staff added in its update on Monday.

“Lysychansk, it was a horror, the last week,” said Elena, an elderly woman from the city who was among dozens of evacuees who arrived in the Ukrainian-held town of Pokrovsk by bus from frontline areas. “I already told my husband if I die, please bury me behind the house,” she added.

The RIA agency quoted a separatist official as saying separatist forces had evacuated more than 250 people, including children, on Sunday from Severodonetsk's Azot chemical plant.

The industrial area was the last part of Severodonetsk held by Ukrainian forces before they withdrew.

Luhansk and neighbouring Donetsk make up Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region — the country’s industrial heartland.

‘Barbarism’

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said missiles also struck the central city of Cherkasy on Sunday, hitting a strategic bridge linking western Ukraine and the eastern battlefields.

“They are trying to limit the transfer of our reserves and Western weapons to the east,” he told Reuters.

Odesa regional administration spokesperson Serhiy Bratchuk said a missile strike in the Odesa region, in southern Ukraine, had destroyed residential buildings and caused a fire. Six people were injured including a child, he added.

Reuters was not able to immediately confirm details of the report. Russia denies targeting civilians.

Ukraine needs a modern air defence system to deter Russian missiles, president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a Sunday evening address, after missiles earlier struck an apartment block and close to a kindergarten in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

“Partners need to move faster if they are really partners, not observers. Delays with the weapons transfers to our state, any restrictions — this is actually an invitation for Russia to hit again and again,” he added.

The United States is likely to announce this week the purchase of an advanced medium to long range surface-to-air missile defence system for Ukraine, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.

US president Joe Biden called the Sunday Kyiv strikes acts of “barbarism”, as leaders from the Group of Seven nations met for a summit in Germany.

Some G7 leaders mocked Russian president Vladimir Putin as they gathered for a group photograph at the summit.

British prime minister Boris Johnson suggested the leaders “show them our pecs” in reference to Mr Putin’s shirtless poses over the years, including on horseback.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said: “We’re going to get the bare-chested horseback riding display”. European Union president Ursula von der Leyen replied: “Oh yes. Horseback riding is the best.”

Britain, Canada, Japan and the United States proposed a ban on gold imports from Russia to tighten the squeeze on Moscow and cut off its means of financing the invasion. — Reuters

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