Germany urges dozen of allies to send air defence systems to Ukraine

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Germany has written to dozens of countries including Gulf Arab states to plead for more air defence systems for Ukraine, saying Kyiv needed urgent help to protect its cities, troops and critical infrastructure from the “murderous onslaught” of Russian missiles.

In a letter to other Nato members, a copy of which was obtained by the Financial Times and confirmed by Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba, German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock and defence minister Boris Pistorius said they were launching a global initiative aimed at plugging the gaps in Ukraine’s air defences.

A “wide range of non-Nato partners” had also been approached, they added. Officials declined to identify those countries.

Ukraine has warned that it is struggling to halt a multipronged and intensifying Russian offensive. The German ministers said Russia was trying to destroy Odesa — the Black Sea port city, which they described as Ukraine’s “economic lifeline” — and the north-eastern industrial centre of Kharkiv, while a wave of attacks on energy infrastructure had caused even more damage than during the winter of 2022-23.

“It is up to us to help Ukraine defend itself against this murderous onslaught,” they said, calling on Germany’s partners to join the initiative, known as Immediate Action on Air Defence (IAAD).

“We appeal to you to take stock of all [the] air defence systems in your arsenals and consider what could be transferred to Ukraine, whole systems or parts of them either permanently or for a limited period,” they said.

Germany’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock and defence minister Boris Pistorius talk in the Bundestag in January
Germany’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock, left, and defence minister Boris Pistorius urged other nations ‘to help Ukraine defend itself’ © Kay Nietfeld/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

In a statement to the FT, Kuleba said Kyiv was “very grateful to Germany for its leadership on the issue of air defence for Ukraine”.

“Not only has it provided its own Patriot system and missiles, but our German friends are actively looking for ways to engage other countries that may help,” he said. “We urge all of them to reciprocate the German call.”

Officials in Kyiv said Kuleba had held discussions on scouring the world for available systems with Baerbock at Nato headquarters in Brussels this month. Germany co-leads a “Capability Coalition Integrated Air and Missile Defense” for Ukraine with France and the US.

“A stronger air defence is a question of survival for thousands of people in Ukraine and the best protection for our own security,” Baerbock said at a meeting of G7 foreign ministers in Capri, Italy, on Wednesday. “We and our partners worldwide must do more to fend off Russia’s terror from the skies.”

Oleksandr Syrsky, Ukraine’s commander-in-chief, warned on Saturday that the situation on the eastern front had “significantly worsened” in recent days.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has made repeated calls for Ukraine’s western partners to provide more air defence systems. After a Russian missile attack destroyed the largest power plant in Kyiv last week, he pleaded for the US Congress to approve a much-needed $60bn military assistance package.

House Speaker Mike Johnson has said he plans to hold a vote on the Ukraine aid package this week, despite opponents in his own Republican party threatening to oust him over the matter.

The latest appeals came after a Russian missile attack on Chernihiv, a city 150km north of the capital Kyiv, on Wednesday. The strikes on a densely populated residential neighbourhood killed at least 17 people and injured more than 60 others, according to authorities.

“These innocent people would not have been killed or injured if Ukraine had sufficient air defence capabilities,” Kuleba said. “Ukraine’s partners have the necessary means to help us save Ukrainian lives.”

Baerbock and Pistorius said the IAAD initiative would primarily seek to procure more US-built Patriot systems for Ukraine as they had proven most effective against Russian ballistic missiles.

German defence ministry spokesman Arne Collatz said Russia’s use of “glide bombs” fired far behind Ukrainian lines increased the need for “more long-range weapons” such as Patriots.

Germany announced last week that it would provide Ukraine with a third Patriot system, in addition to the two it has already supplied. It has also donated other equipment, such as Gepard anti-aircraft gun tanks and four Iris-T air defence systems. Officials said Berlin would send more Iris-Ts later this year. 

Germany was also scouring the world for other defensive units that could prove useful to Ukraine, such as the French-Italian SAMP/T and US-Norwegian NASAMS surface-to-air systems, officials said.

Foreign ministry spokesman Christian Wagner said other countries must “seriously look to see if more systems are available, and if these can be quickly provided to Ukraine”.

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