U.S. predicts Ukraine will battle through winter; allies bolster air defenses

BRUSSELS, Oct 12 (Reuters) – Ukraine is expected to battle through harsh winter conditions to try to retake more territory from Russia, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Wednesday, as allies announced new air defenses and pledged more aid. . In the wake of Russian missile attacks.

Military analysts are watching to see if Ukraine’s harsh winter eases the fighting, giving troops on both sides of the conflict a chance to reset after months of brutal fighting since Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

But Austin, speaking at a gathering at NATO headquarters in Brussels of some 50 countries that provide military aid to Ukraine, said Kiev was expected to do what it could next after recapturing territory seized by Russian forces in recent weeks.

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“I expect Ukraine to continue to do everything throughout the winter to regain its territory and be effective on the battlefield,” Austin said at a news conference.

“And we’re going to do everything we can to make sure they have what it takes to be effective.”

A senior U.S. defense official said Ukraine is “enthusiastic” about aid, including winter clothing, to help it through the winter months of fighting.

“But what about those Russian troops? What kind of support are they going to have in the winter? Right now, the Russians are alone and isolated,” the official said.

Several countries condemned the attack, which Russian President Vladimir Putin called a “special military operation” to ensure Russian security and protect Russian-speakers in Ukraine.

Ukraine and its allies accuse Moscow of waging war to seize territory or even take over its pro-Western neighbors.

Missile attacks

Austin opened the NATO event two days ago, sitting next to his Ukrainian counterpart, condemning Putin’s deadly missile strikes against “targets without any military purpose” in Ukraine.

US Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the strikes meet the definition of war crimes under the international rules of war. Kyiv and its allies have repeatedly accused the Russian military of war crimes and targeting civilians, allegations Russia denies.

“Russia has deliberately attacked civilian infrastructure with the intention of harming civilians,” Milli told reporters.

“They have targeted the elderly, women and children of Ukraine. Indiscriminate and deliberate attacks on civilian targets are a war crime under the international rules of war.”

The latest Russian airstrikes in Ukraine killed 19 people, injured more than 100 and cut power across the country, adding new urgency to Kiev’s long-standing call for air defense to protect its cities.

Germany announced that the first of four IRIS-T air defense systems has arrived in Ukraine. German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht called this “very important support for Ukraine in the fight against missile attacks”.

A ‘physical response’?

The gathering in Brussels is the first major NATO meeting since Moscow announced in September that it was annexing four regions of Ukraine, heralded the merger and made secret nuclear threats – moves the alliance classed as a clear escalation of the war.

A senior NATO official said a Russian nuclear strike would change the course of the conflict and almost certainly trigger a “physical response” from Ukraine’s allies — “and potentially from NATO itself.”

The official did not elaborate on what the physical response might be.

NATO’s nuclear planning group is scheduled to hold a closed-door meeting on Thursday, but the alliance has not released details on what specifically will be discussed.

Speaking ahead of a two-day meeting of the alliance’s defense ministers, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance will begin annual nuclear preparedness exercises next week.

He was referring to the “Steadfast Noon” exercise, in which NATO air forces practice US nuclear bombs based in Europe with training flights without live weapons.

Canceling the drills because of the war in Ukraine would send “a very wrong signal,” Stoltenberg said.

“This is an exercise to ensure that our nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure and effective,” he said, adding that NATO’s military strength is the best way to prevent tensions from escalating. Moscow has accused the West of escalating the conflict by supporting Kiev.

Europe is already on edge after the attacks on the Nord Stream pipeline, which runs under the Baltic Sea, although it is still unclear who was behind the blasts.

NATO has said it will be able to attack allies’ critical infrastructure with a “coordinated and determined response” and has doubled its presence in the Baltic and North Seas to more than 30 ships already supported by aircraft and undersea activities.

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Reporting by Sabine Siebold, Philip Blenkinsop and Phil Stewart; Additional reporting by John Chalmers and Jan Strupzewski; Editing by Nick McPhee, Jonathan Otis and Grant McCool

Our Standards: Principles of Thomson Reuters Trust.

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