Western defence chiefs in Ukraine as Russia plans huge rise in military spending

Kyiv seeks urgent air defence boost before expected winter attacks on power grid

Senior British, French and Nato officials have visited Ukraine as it seeks to strengthen its air defences against an expected winter campaign of Russian attacks on its power grid, while Moscow unveiled plans to increase military spending by nearly 70 per cent.

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg, British defence secretary Grant Shapps and French counterpart Sebastien Lecornu held talks in Kyiv on Thursday, hours after Russia launched its latest drone and missile attacks on several regions of Ukraine.

Ukraine’s military said it shot down 34 of 44 explosive drones launched by Russia, and that a warehouse was set on fire at a power station in southern Ukraine. Russian attacks on energy infrastructure last week caused blackouts in at least five regions.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office said that his talks with Mr Shapps included “the issue of bolstering Ukraine’s air defence, which is particularly important in the run-up to the winter season”.


Ukrainian defence minister Rustem Umerov wrote on social media that he briefed Mr Shapps on the “current battlefield situation and urgent needs. Focus on air defence, artillery, anti-drone systems. Winter is coming but we are ready.”

Mr Zelenskiy also urged Mr Stoltenberg to help Kyiv secure more air defence systems urgently amid almost nightly Russian drone and missile attacks on Ukraine’s southern ports, which have wrecked infrastructure and storage silos and destroyed thousands of tonnes of grain.

“The secretary general has committed to make personal efforts to support us, to rally the allies behind this very purpose. We need to come through this winter together, protect our energy infrastructure and people’s lives,” Mr Zelenskiy said.

Mr Stoltenberg said Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the southeast was “gradually gaining ground” and that its troops were “fighting for their families, their future, their freedom” while Russia’s invasion force was “fighting for imperial delusions”.

“Today I can confirm that Nato now has framework contracts in place for €2.4 billion worth of key ammunition, including €1 billion of firm orders … This will help allies to refill their stocks while continuing to support Ukraine.

“Rest assured we will produce, we will deliver ammunition, weapons, because this is about solidarity with Ukraine. It would be a tragedy for Ukrainians if Russia wins but it will also be extremely dangerous for us. So it is in our security interest to ensure that we provide Ukraine with the support they need to win this war.”

Moscow accuses Nato states of helping Ukraine plan operations – including a missile strike on the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in occupied Crimea last week, which Kyiv claims killed 34 officers – but says no amount of Western arms will help it win the war.

Russia’s finance ministry documents show that the Kremlin plans to increase defence spending by more than 68 per cent next year to almost 10.8 trillion roubles (€105.4bn). The AFP news agency said this was about triple the combined amount earmarked for education, environmental protection and healthcare.

“It is obvious here that such an increase is necessary, absolutely necessary, because we live in a state of hybrid war … that is being waged against us,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Russian finance minister Anton Siluanov said: “The structure of the budget shows that the main emphasis is on ensuring our victory … This is no small strain for the budget, but it is our absolute priority.”

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe