Ukraine defense minister expects help from West on warplanes

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Ukraine’s defense minister expressed confidence Sunday that Western allies would agree to the country’s latest weapons request — warplanes to fight off Russian forces that invaded nearly a year ago.

Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told a news conference in Kyiv that Ukraine has already received everything from its “wish list to Santa,” except planes.

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“There will be planes, too,” Reznikov predicted. “The question is just what kind exactly.... Consider that this mission is already completed.”

So far, Ukraine has won support from Baltic nations and Poland in its quest to obtain Western fighter jets. But several Western leaders have expressed concern that providing warplanes could provoke the Kremlin and draw their countries deeper into the conflict, which has cost tens of thousands of lives and wreaked massive destruction.

Kyiv says such jets are essential to challenging Russia’s air superiority and ensuring success in a Russian offensive that Reznikov predicted could begin around the war’s one-year anniversary, February 24.

“Not all Western weapons will arrive by then, but we have the resources and reserves to help stabilize and sustain the offensive,” Reznikov told reporters.

Since the war began, Western leaders have balked at some of Ukraine’s requests, such as for longer-range missiles and tanks, only to agree later. The warplanes are the latest example.

Ukraine has relocated its warplanes and concealed air defense assets, hampering Moscow’s efforts to gain full control of the skies. After suffering early losses, the Russian air force has avoided venturing deep into Ukraine’s airspace and mostly focused on close front line support.

German-made tanks are on the way to Ukraine. Reznikov said his forces would begin training on Leopard tanks in Europe on Monday, before their delivery to Ukraine. So far, Canada, Poland, Germany, Great Britain and the United States have announced they will supply tanks to Ukraine.

The Kremlin has said Western countries’ supply of increasingly sophisticated and more weapons will only prolong the conflict, and it has characterized NATO as a direct participant. Reznikov, commenting on the supply of Western weapons and the state of the Ukrainian army, took the rhetoric further on Sunday, telling reporters: “I absolutely boldly claim that we have become a de facto NATO country. We only have a de jure part left.”

Ukraine has applied to join NATO, as have two of Russia’s other neighbors, Finland and Sweden.

On the battlefield, Kharkiv regional governor Oleh Syniehubov said four people were injured Sunday when a Russian S-300 missile fell near an apartment block in Kharkiv city, and another was hurt when a missile hit a university building. Video showed the building hit was the National Academy for Urban Economy, about 700 meters from the city’s central square.

Meanwhile, heavy fighting continued in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, one of four regions that Russia illegally annexed last year even though its forces do not fully control the area. Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said five civilians were wounded in rocket attacks during the night in the city of Druzhkivka and that the town of Avdiivka and its outskirts were also fired on.

In the Donetsk city of Bakhmut, the epicenter of the fiercest fighting in Ukraine, the Ukrainian military said Sunday it had repelled Russian attacks. The founder of the mercenary group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said in a Telegram post that Kyiv’s forces were not retreating and that “there are fierce battles for every street, every house, every stairwell.”

In the Black Sea port of Odesa, workers labored to connect temporary generators shipped in to restore electricity. The city and surrounding area were plunged into darkness over the weekend following a large-scale network failure.

Grid operator Ukrenergo said that the failure involved equipment “repeatedly repaired” after Russia’s savage strikes on Ukraine’s energy grid, and that residents should brace themselves for lengthy blackouts.

As of Sunday afternoon, about 280,000 customers — 40 percent of the customers — remained without power, said prime minister Denis Shmyhal.

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