Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has appealed to leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) countries for more air defence capabilities as the world’s wealthiest democracies pledged to support Kyiv for “as long as it takes”.
In a virtual meeting held on Tuesday, a day after missiles rained down on cities across Ukraine, Zelenskyy called on G7 leaders to give Ukraine an “air shield” to stop Russia.
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“I am asking you to strengthen the overall effort to help financially with the creation of an air shield for Ukraine. Millions of people will be grateful to the Group of Seven for such assistance,” he said in a video address while warning that Russian President Vladimir Putin “still has room for further escalation”.
In a joint statement released at the end of the meeting, the G7 – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States – pledged continued “financial, humanitarian, military, diplomatic and legal support … for as long as it takes” to Ukraine.
They reiterated that attacks on civilian populations constitute war crimes and pledged to “hold President Putin and those responsible to account”.
The leaders also gave their support to Ukraine’s campaign to retake regions annexed by Russia and decried recent nuclear posturing.
“We deplore deliberate Russian escalatory steps, including the partial mobilisation of reservists and irresponsible nuclear rhetoric, which is putting global peace and security at risk,” a G7 statement said. “We reaffirm that any use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons by Russia would be met with severe consequences.”
The group did not specifically respond to Zelenskyy’s request for increased air defences.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida cautioned that the current threat of a nuclear attack in the conflict “does not at all allow any prediction” but “requires serious, close attention”.
“For the past 77 years, the world has continued to put a stop to using nuclear weapons. This history of not using nuclear weapons must continue further,” said Kishida, who comes from Hiroshima, one of two Japanese cities targeted by US atomic bombs in 1945.
‘The confrontation will continue’
Earlier in the day, the Kremlin had dismissed the G7 meeting, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying Moscow expects “confrontation” with the West.
“The mood ahead of the summit is well understood; it is easily predictable. The confrontation will continue,” Peskov told reporters, adding that Russia will “achieve its set goals” in Ukraine.
Russia on Monday launched more than 80 missiles at multiple Ukrainian cities, killing at least 19 people and wounding dozens, according to Ukrainian officials.
The firing of missiles continued on Tuesday, with one person killed in Zaporizhzhia and an attack also reported in Lviv, Ukrainian authorities said.
The bombings came in retaliation for an explosion on Saturday that damaged the Kerch Bridge, which links Russia to Crimea, a peninsula Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
Putin blamed Ukraine for the blast and warned of “severe” responses to any further attacks.
On Tuesday, the United Nations said the Russian air attacks may have violated the laws of war and would amount to war crimes if civilians were deliberately targeted.
“These strikes may have violated the principles of the conduct of hostilities under international humanitarian law,” Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the UN human rights office, told reporters in Geneva.
In a phone call with Zelenskyy on Monday, President Joe Biden promised that the US would provide Ukraine with advanced air systems to help it defend itself.
Peskov on Tuesday criticised the US pledge.
“De facto, the United States is already bogged down in this affair,” he said, arguing the deliveries would make “this conflict longer and more painful for the Ukrainian side”.
“But it’s not going to change our goals and the end result,” he added.
Ready for talks
Separately on Tuesday, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow was open to dialogue with Western nations on Ukraine but had yet to receive any proposals for a meeting.
In an interview on state TV, Lavrov said officials, including White House National Security Spokesman John Kirby, had said the US was open to talks but that Russia had refused.
“This is a lie,” Lavrov said. “We have not received any serious offers to make contact.”
The foreign minister said Moscow would not turn down a meeting between Putin and Biden at a G20 summit in November and would consider the proposal if it received one.
“We have repeatedly said that we never refuse meetings,” Lavrov said. “If there is a proposal, then we will consider it.”
On the possibility Turkey could host talks between Russia and the West, Lavrov said Moscow would be willing to listen to any suggestions but could not say in advance whether this would lead to results.