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Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged Ukraine’s backers to keep lethal assistance flowing “without any pauses” as US Congressional dysfunction threatens future assistance and allies are preoccupied by Hamas’s assault on Israel.
“We are now in a special situation on the front line . . . where it is important to put pressure, and without any pauses,” the Ukrainian president said on Wednesday, adding that Russia must not be able to “rest, recover”.
Zelenskyy said he would use his visit to Nato’s headquarters to press for air defence, artillery and ammunition, which he described as critical to bringing about “a just end” to the war. His administration told the Financial Times that they expected to leave Brussels with new pledges of military support from their Nato allies.
Zelenskyy compared Hamas’s assault on Israel this weekend to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and said his people stood with Israel because they knew what it meant to suffer terror attacks. The Ukrainian president said it was important for Israel to know it was not alone.
“Go to Israel on the ground and support people there,” he said in a plea to other world leaders, as he stood next to Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg.
Following Hamas’s surprise attack over the weekend, US president Joe Biden and his national security team have held marathon meetings on the crisis and have rushed ammunition and air defence to Israel.
The Biden administration has said that both Israel and Ukraine remain top priorities.
The US on Wednesday announced a new package of $200mn in new lethal assistance, including AIM-9M missiles for air defence, ammunition for Himars, 155mm and 105mm artillery rounds and other weaponry.
The UK also pledged more than £100mn in lethal aid, including systems to help Ukrainian armed forces clear minefields, maintain its vehicles and shore up defensive fortifications. Germany on Tuesday announced a $1.1bn winter package, including air defence systems such as an additional Patriot and an additional IRIS-T system and Gepard anti-aircraft gun tank.
The US has about $5bn left in funds to send new weapons to Ukraine after Congress has yet to appropriate more money for Kyiv. But officials point to another figure, $1.6bn in funds to replenish its stockpiles, as limiting the US from sending more than a few months’ worth of additional weapons and material.
The Biden administration has tried to reassure Ukraine and other allies that it remains committed to Kyiv after Republicans last month stripped financing for Ukraine from a bill to fund the US government, in an indication of Ukraine’s decreasing popularity among Republican voters.
Still, US officials point to generally widespread support among Republican and Democratic members of Congress for Ukraine as a sign that the aid will eventually be approved. Congressional Republicans are set to begin voting on Wednesday to elect a new Speaker of the House, but the process could drag on.
Zelenskyy had said earlier on Telegram that continued support “will be critical to our resilience this winter”, when Ukraine expects a surge of Russian missile and drone attacks on energy infrastructure in an attempt to plunge the war-torn nation into darkness as it did last year.
Zelenskyy’s visit comes at a critical time in its counteroffensive. He acknowledged on Wednesday that the fighting is “difficult”.
Since he left Ukraine on Tuesday, Russian forces have stepped up attacks in the eastern Donetsk region, marking their first offensive actions in months. Launched in May with the goal of clawing back lost territory, Ukraine’s counteroffensive has so far struggled to gain momentum.
As Zelenskyy spoke in Brussels, Russian forces pushed ahead with an assault on the eastern industrial city of Avdiivka.
Oleksandr Shtupun, a military spokesperson for Ukraine’s southern front, said Russian forces were fighting with “all their might to show some kind of success and are trying to surround Avdiivka”.
The industrial city is home to Ukraine’s largest coking plant, which videos posted on social media and verified by the Financial Times showed was targeted by artillery attacks and air strikes on Tuesday. Some videos showed plumes of smoke rising from the battered city, while those posted by Ukrainian drone operators revealed a convoy of Russian armoured vehicles and infantry troops moving towards the frontline.
Of Avdiivka’s prewar population of 30,000, authorities say only a little more than 1,000 residents remain in the city, much of which has been reduced to rubble by relentless shelling.
Ukraine’s General Staff said that “up to three battalions” of Russian soldiers were involved in the offensive around Avdiivka.
“They are not succeeding, but they will try to gain some operational space,” Shtupun said of the Russian assault. “At the moment they are suffering losses, our soldiers are standing firm and defending Avdiivka and the neighbouring settlements.”
Russia also continued its air strikes on Ukraine’s Danube ports, used to export grains and by the country’s military for its seaborne operations, the General Staff said.