Ukraine welcomes Western allies’ air defence coalition

(Reuters) – President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his defence minister welcomed the formation by Ukraine’s Western allies on Thursday of a 20-nation “coalition” to boost air defences, seen as a key element in the country’s campaign against Russian forces.

Zelenskiy said the group, one of several devoted to specific areas of Ukraine’s defence, was formed at a virtual meeting of the “Ramstein group” examining Ukraine’s military needs.

Germany’s Defence Ministry had earlier announced the formation of the group in a posting on X, formerly Twitter, with Germany and France taking on leading roles.

“Thanks to every country participating in these efforts for enabling our cities and villages to be better protected against Russian attacks,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address.

“Not everything can be disclosed publicly at this time, but the Ukrainian air shield is becoming stronger every month.”

Defence Minister Rustem Umerov also noted other assistance agreed by participants, including a German air defence package announced this week during a visit to Kyiv by Defence Minister Boris Pistorius. Also noted were a Dutch package and Estonian financing for help with information technology.

Ukraine’s military commander-in-chief, General Valery Zaluzhniy, said on Telegram that he had taken part in the meeting for the first time, describing the situation along the 1,000-km (600-mile) front as “complicated but controllable”.

Zelenskiy has long pointed to improved air defence as a key element to help keep Ukrainian cities safe from Russian air strikes – including on energy infrastructure – as wintry weather takes hold.

At different points in the war, about to extend into its 21st month, Russia has launched attacks on Ukrainian power stations and other infrastructure.

Missile and drone strikes have also hit apartment blocks and other civilian sites, though Russia denies targeting civilians.

(Reporting by Ron Popeski and Ludwig Berger; Editing by Stephen Coates)