Ukraine president asks G7 for ‘air shield’ amid new Russia blitz


The leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) countries and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy have begun urgent talks to discuss support for Ukraine following Russia’s largest aerial assault against cities since the war began.

Speaking at the meeting on Tuesday, which came a day after missiles rained down on Ukrainian cities including the capital Kyiv, Zelenskyy called on the world’s wealthiest democracies to give Ukraine enough air defence capabilities to stop Russia.

“I am asking you to strengthen the overall effort to help financially with the creation of an air shield for Ukraine. Millions of people will be grateful to the Group of Seven for such assistance,” he said in a video address to G7 leaders, while warning that Russian President Vladimir Putin “still has room for further escalation”.

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, meanwhile, cautioned that the current threat of nuclear weapons in the conflict “does not at all allow any prediction”, but “requires serious, close attention.”

“For the past 77 years, the world has continued to put a stop to using nuclear weapons. This history of not using nuclear weapons must continue further,” said Kishida, who comes from Hiroshima, one of two Japanese cities targeted by US atomic bombs in 1945.

Prior to the virtual meeting, the office of UK Prime Minister Liz Truss said she would use gathering to urge fellow leaders to “stay the course” on the eight month conflict, which began with Russia’s invasion on February 24.

“Nobody wants peace more than Ukraine. And for our part, we must not waver one iota in our resolve to help them win it,” she said.

Commenting ahead of the G7 meeting, the Kremlin said it expects more “confrontation” with the West.

“The mood ahead of the summit is well understood, it is easily predictable. The confrontation will continue,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday, adding that Russia will “achieve its set goals” in Ukraine.

Russia on Monday dropped more than 80 missiles in multiple Ukrainian cities, with at least 19 people killed and dozens wounded, according to Ukrainian officials.

The firing of missiles continued on Tuesday, with one person killed in Zaporizhzhia and an attack also reported in Lviv, Ukrainian authorities said.

The bombings came in retaliation for an explosion on Saturday that damaged the Kerch Bridge, which links Russia to Crimea, a peninsula Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Putin blamed Ukraine for the bridge blast and warned of “severe” responses to any further attacks.

On Tuesday, the United Nations said the bombings may have violated the laws of war and would amount to war crimes if civilians were deliberately targeted.

“These strikes may have violated the principles of the conduct of hostilities under international humanitarian law,” Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the UN human rights office, told reporters in Geneva.

In a phone call with Zelenskyy on Monday, President Joe Biden promised that the United States would provide Ukraine with advanced air systems to help it “defend itself”.

Peskov on Tuesday criticised the US’s pledge.

“De facto, the United States is already bogged down in this affair,” he said, adding that the deliveries will make “this conflict longer and more painful for the Ukrainian side”.

“But it’s not going to change our goals and the end result,” he added.

Ready for talks

Separately on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow was open to dialogue with Western nations on Ukraine Ukraine, but had yet to receive any proposals for a meeting.

In an interview on state TV, Lavrov said officials including White House national security spokesman John Kirby had said the US was open to talks but that Russia had refused.

“This is a lie,” Lavrov said. “We have not received any serious offers to make contact.”

Moreover, the foreign minister said Moscow would not turn down a meeting between Putin and Biden at a forthcoming G20 meeting and would consider the proposal if it received one.

“We have repeatedly said that we never refuse meetings. If there is a proposal, then we will consider it,” Lavrov said.

On the possibility that Turkey could host talks between Russia and the West, Lavrov said Moscow would be willing to listen to any suggestions but could not say in advance whether this would lead to results.__Al Jazeera