Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Friday that Ukraine continues to endure and repel waves of Russian air attacks and that Ukrainian air defenses have been made “stronger than ever.”
“In the new year,” he added, “Ukrainian air defense will become even stronger, even more effective.”
The Ukrainian leader said Ukrainian air defense “can become the most powerful in Europe,” a guarantee of security “not only for our country, but for the entire continent.”
The United States last week announced nearly $2 billion in additional military aid, including the Patriot Air Defense System, which offers protection against aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called on NATO member states to supply more weapons to Ukraine.
“I call on allies to do more. It is in all our security interests to make sure Ukraine prevails and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin does not win,” Stoltenberg told German news agency DPA on Friday.
Stoltenberg said the need for ammunition and spare parts was “enormous.” He told DPA that military support for Ukraine was the fastest way to peace, Reuters reports.
“We know that most wars end at the negotiating table — probably this war too — but we know that what Ukraine can achieve in these negotiations depends inextricably on the military situation,” he said.
Russia’s ongoing offensive
Russia shelled Ukrainian towns across a long stretch of the front line from north to south, Ukrainian officials said Friday, a day after Moscow fired dozens of missiles in its latest barrage against critical infrastructure.
In an evening report Friday, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said Russian forces had tried to advance near Bakhmut and Avdiivka in the east, while firing on several towns and villages, and shelled settlements further west in the Donetsk region, including the town of Vuhledar.
Zelenskyy said the nation’s forces were holding their positions in the eastern Donbas region.
“There are also some areas of the front where we are advancing a bit,” he noted.
Russian forces shelled several towns near Kupiansk, in the northeast Kharkiv region recaptured by Ukraine in September, the General Staff report said, as well as settlements in the Luhansk region, where Ukrainian forces hope to advance after the gains of recent weeks.
Areas of the Zaporizhzhia region, to the south, also came under heavy Russian shelling, including the contested town of Hulyaipole. Additionally, there was also shelling in and around Ukrainian-held Nikopol, on the opposite side of the Kakhovka reservoir from the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station.
On the southern front, there were renewed Russian strikes targeting infrastructure in the city of Kherson, which Russian forces abandoned last month, and Kachkarivka, further north on the west bank of the Dnipro River.
Air attack sirens blared overnight into Friday in the capital, Kyiv, and Reuters reported several explosions and the sound of anti-aircraft fire south of the city, as Russian forces launched 16 Iranian-made Shahed drones, the officials said.
The Ukrainian military said all of the drones had been destroyed. Seven had targeted Kyiv, where an administrative building was damaged, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said.
Putin-Xi deepen ties
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping vowed Friday to strengthen their bilateral cooperation. During their opening remarks on a publicly broadcast videoconference, the two leaders welcomed strengthening ties between Moscow and Beijing amid what they called “geopolitical tensions” and a “difficult international situation,” with Putin expressing his wish to extend military collaboration.
“In the face of increasing geopolitical tensions, the significance of the Russian-Chinese strategic partnership is growing as a stabilizing factor,” he said.
Putin added that he expected Xi to visit Moscow in the spring. Such a trip “will demonstrate to the whole world the strength of the Russian-Chinese ties on key issues, will become the main political event of the year in bilateral relations,” he said.
Xi said through a translator that “in the face of a difficult and far from straightforward international situation,” Beijing was ready “to increase strategic cooperation with Russia, provide each other with development opportunities, be global partners for the benefit of the peoples of our countries and in the interests of stability around the world.”
But an official Chinese transcript of the video summit between the two leaders highlighted differences in their approach to their developing alliance, making no mention of Xi’s visit to Moscow and stressing that Beijing, which has declined to back or condemn the invasion, would maintain its “objective and fair” stance.
The U.S. expressed concern about the Russian-China rapprochement.
“We are monitoring Beijing’s activity closely,” a State Department spokesperson said. “Beijing claims to be neutral, but its behavior makes it clear, it is still investing in close ties to Russia.”
U.S. officials have repeatedly said they have yet to see Beijing provide material support to Russia on its invasion on Ukraine, a move that could provoke sanctions against China.
Some material for this article came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.