KYIV/BRUSSELS—Russian missiles have pounded more than 40 Ukrainian cities and towns over the past 24 hours, as NATO allies meeting in Brussels unveiled plans on Thursday to jointly beef up Europe’s air defences with Patriot and other missile systems.
“We are living in threatening, dangerous times,” said German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht at a signing ceremony where Germany and more than a dozen of European NATO members committed to jointly procuring weapons for a “European Sky Shield” to better protect their territory.
Moscow renewed warnings that more military aid for Kyiv agreed earlier this week at the NATO meeting made members of the U.S.–led military alliance “a direct party to the conflict,” and said admitting Ukraine to the alliance would trigger a World War.
“Kyiv is well aware that such a step would mean a guaranteed escalation to a World War Three,” deputy secretary of Russia’s Security Council, Alexander Venediktov, told the state TASS news agency on Thursday.
Moscow has repeatedly justified the Feb. 24 invasion in what it calls a “special operation,” by saying Ukraine’s ambitions to join the alliance posed a threat to Russia’s security.
Washington and other NATO members have provided Ukraine with weapons to fight Russia and imposed economic sanctions.
Ahead of the meeting of NATO’s defence ministers, including close-door talks by its nuclear planning group, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin vowed to defend “every inch” of members’ territory.
Even before the invasion, NATO had dragged its feet on Ukrainian membership. Shortly after Russia’s invasion began Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signalled he was willing to consider neutrality.
Zelenskyy has since asked for fast-track membership, hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin proclaimed controlled regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia as Russian land on Sept. 30.
In the past 24 hours Russian missiles hit more than 40 settlements, while Ukrainian air force carried out 32 strikes on 25 Russian targets, Ukraine’s Armed Forces General Staff claimed.
The southern port city of Mykolaiv came under massive bombardment, local officials said.
Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office three people were killed in the strike.
Russia also targeted a settlement in the region of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, where three drone strikes hit critical infrastructure early on Thursday, the region’s administration said on Telegram.
Governor of the Kyiv region, Oleksiy Kuleba, said that based on preliminary information the strikes were caused by Iranian-made loitering munitions, often known as “kamikaze drones.”
Ukraine has reported a spate of Russian attacks with the Shahed-136 drones in recent weeks. Iran denies supplying the drones to Russia, while the Kremlin has not commented.
Missiles struck about 30 multi-storey buildings and houses, gas pipelines and power lines in the city of Nikopol in the Dnipropetrovsk region, leaving more than 2,000 families without electricity, regional governor Valentyn Reznichenko wrote on Telegram.
Reuters was not able to immediately verify the reports.
On Wednesday, more than 50 Western countries met to pledge more military aid to Ukraine, especially air defence weapons, after Putin ordered heavy retaliatory strikes in response to an explosion on a bridge in Crimea.
Germany has sent Ukraine the first of four IRIS-T SLM air defence systems, while Washington said it would speed up delivery of a promised NASAMS air defence system.
At least 26 people have been killed since Monday in the Russian missile attacks. Ukrainian officials reported strikes at 28 energy installations.
Stressing the urgency of further assistance, Zelenskyy told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on Thursday that Ukraine still had about only 10 percent of what it needed to protect itself against Russian air attacks.
By Max Hunder and Sabine Siebold