Nato pledged to do more to help Ukraine endure a winter of war and Russian attacks on its electricity network, as Kyiv said it hoped to secure air defence systems and equipment to repair its battered power grid from alliance members.
State energy firm Ukrenergo said it could meet only 70 per cent of Ukraine’s electricity needs on Tuesday morning, six days after much of the country lost heat, light and water supplies when Russian rockets pounded power stations and other critical infrastructure.
Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said Moscow’s forces were “failing in Ukraine” and Russian president Vladimir Putin “was responding with more brutality, attacking gas infrastructure, power lines, and trying to deprive the Ukrainians of water, electricity, lights and heating” and using “winter as a weapon of war”.
“The message from all allies will be that we need to do more. Both to help Ukraine repair the destroyed critical infrastructure, including the power and gas grid, but also ... by providing more air defence systems,” he added, as foreign ministers of Nato states gathered for talks in the Romanian capital, Bucharest.
“We are all paying a price for Russia’s war against Ukraine. But the price we pay is in money, while the price Ukrainians pay is in blood. And if we let Putin win, all of us will pay a much higher price for many years to come ... There can be no lasting peace if the aggressor wins.”
As temperatures hovered around freezing across most of Ukraine, Ukrenergo said the country’s power deficit was growing because of “the emergency shutdown of units at several power plants ... and a further increase in consumption due to worsening weather”.
Ukrenergo told customers that blackouts lasting for several hours at a time would continue in many areas and urged them to use electricity frugally “so fewer restrictions can be applied to prevent accidents and also to allow energy workers to focus on repairing damaged facilities, which becomes more difficult with each missile attack”.
Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said on arrival in Bucharest that his country needed urgent action from Nato allies rather than more pledges of future support.
“Partners are well aware of our needs. So today we will ... discuss the specific dates and quantities of deliveries,” he said, adding that Kyiv wanted US-made Patriot air defence units and transformers to fix the power grid.
“My two keywords for this meeting are Patriot and transformers. There is no point in focusing on one. It is necessary to repair and protect,” he added, as the US announced $53 million (€51 million) in urgent aid to help Ukraine fix its power system.
Fourteen years after a Nato summit in Bucharest rebuffed US calls to offer an immediate membership path to Ukraine and Georgia – both of which Russia subsequently invaded – Mr Stoltenberg insisted that the alliance’s door was still open.
“On Ukrainian membership, we stated that Ukraine will become a member. I expect allies to reiterate that position. However, the main focus now is on supporting Ukraine ... and ensuring that President Putin doesn’t win but that Ukraine prevails,” he said.
Moscow has reacted angrily to comments from Pope Francis that Russia is to blame for the war in “martyred” Ukraine and that, among Russian soldiers, “the cruelest are perhaps those who are of Russia but not of the Russian tradition, such as Chechens, Buryats and so on”.
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said this was “not even Russophobia (but) distortion on a level that I can’t even fathom ... We are one family with Buryats, Chechens and other representatives of our multinational and multi-confessional country.