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Ukraine’s Zelenskyy says Russia can be stopped but Kyiv badly needs more air defense systems

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Ukraine has shown the world that Russia’s military can be stopped, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Wednesday as he began a visit to the Baltic nations in search of more help for his country against the Kremlin’s larger and better-supplied forces in the 22-month-old invasion.

Speaking in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, Zelenskyy said Ukraine still must bolster its air defenses against Russia’s intensified missile and drone onslaughts and replenish its ammunition supplies as long-range strikes become the main feature of this winter’s fighting.

“We have proven that Russia can be stopped, that deterrence is possible,” he said after talks with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda on his first foreign trip of the year.

The massive Russian barrages – more than 500 drones and missiles were fired between Dec. 29 and Jan. 2, according to officials in Kyiv – are using up Ukraine’s weapons stockpiles, however. The escalation is stretching Ukraine’s air defense resources and leaving the country vulnerable unless it can secure further weapons supplies.

“We lack modern air defense systems badly,” Zelenskyy said, noting that they are “what we need the most.”

He acknowledged, however, that stockpiles are low in countries that could provide such materiel. “Warehouses are empty. And there are many challenges to world defense,” he said. Ukraine hopes to accelerate development of its domestic defense industry and establish joint projects with foreign governments to speed up ammunition and weapons production. Ukrainian officials traveling with Zelenskyy signed several documents on cooperation on joint arms production. Similar agreements are expected in the other Baltic countries Zelenskyy is expected to visit this week.

Nauseda said Lithuania will send ammunition, generators and detonation systems to Ukraine this month, and in February will provide armored personnel carriers. It has approved 200 million euros ($219 million) in support for Kyiv, he said.

The focus of his two-day trip to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, Zelenskyy said on his official Telegram channel, will be security concerns, Ukraine’s hopes to join the European Union and NATO, and building partnerships in drone production and electronic warfare capacities.

Zelenskyy thanked Lithuania for its military assistance and goodwill. He was expected in Estonia and Latvia on Thursday.

“We know how tiring this long-running war is, and we are interested in Ukraine’s complete victory in it as soon as possible,” Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda told reporters.

The small eastern European countries are among Ukraine’s staunchest political, financial and military supporters, and some in the Baltics worry that they could be Moscow’s next target.

The three countries were seized and annexed by Josef Stalin during World War II before regaining independence with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. They joined NATO in 2004, placing themselves under the military protection of the U.S. and its Western allies.

“Democratic countries have done a lot to help Ukraine, but we need to do more together so that Ukraine wins and the aggressor loses,” Estonian President Alar Karis said in a statement.

“Then there is the hope that this will remain the last military aggression in Europe, where someone wants to dictate to their neighbor with missiles, drones and cannons what political choices can be made,” he said.

In his Telegram message, Zelenskyy expressed gratitude to the Baltic countries for their “uncompromising” support of Ukraine over the past 10 years, referring to 2014 when Russia’s aggression started with the illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula.

Russia’s recent escalation of missile and drone attacks is stretching Ukraine’s air defense resources, a Ukrainian air force official said Tuesday, leaving the country vulnerable unless it can secure further weapons supplies.

Zelenskyy’s energetic international diplomacy during the war has been essential to maintain pressure on friendly countries to keep supplying Kyiv with billions of dollars in weaponry, including German Leopard tanks, U.S. Patriot missile systems and British Storm Shadow cruise missiles.

That support has tailed off recently, however. A plan by the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden to send to Kyiv billions of dollars in further aid is stuck in Congress, and Europe’s pledge in March to provide 1 million artillery shells within 12 months has fallen short, with only about 300,000 delivered so far.

Meanwhile, long-range strikes by the Kremlin’s forces have continued.

Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, came under attack from Russian S-300 missiles late Tuesday, said Mayor Ihor Terekhov.

The Russians hit an unoccupied summer camp on the northeastern city’s outskirts, he said on Telegram. Several buildings were damaged but no casualties were reported.

Ukraine also kept up its attempts to hit targets inside Russia.

The Russian Defense Ministry said its air defenses downed a Ukrainian drone early Wednesday over the Saratov region of southwestern Russia, on the Volga River.

Saratov Gov. Roman Busargin said the drone was downed over the Engels district, which is home to Russia’s main strategic bomber base that have launched cruise missiles at Ukraine. He said there were no casualties or damage.

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