Ukraine’s President in Estonia on swing through Russia’s Baltic neighbours

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was in the capital of Estonia on Thursday for meetings with the country’s leaders on the second day of a trip through the small Baltic states, where concern is high about aggression from neighbouring Russia. Zelenskyy arrived in Tallinn late Wednesday after beginning his Baltic swing in Lithuania. He is to meet with Estonia’s president and prime minister and address the parliament before heading to Latvia.

In Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius, on Wednesday, Zelenskyy said Ukraine has shown the world that Russia’s military can be stopped. He 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 December 29 and January 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. A Russian S-300 missile hit a hotel in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, late Wednesday, injuring 11 people including a Turkish journalist, regional governor Oleh Syniehubov said. The city has been attacked for four consecutive nights, the governor said.

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“We lack modern air defense systems badly,” Zelenskyy said in Vilnius, noting that they are “what we need the most.” He acknowledged, however, that stockpiles are low in countries that could provide such material. “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 travelling with Zelenskyy signed several documents on cooperation on joint arms production.

Similar agreements are expected in the other Baltic countries. Nauseda said Lithuania will send ammunition, generators and detonation systems to Ukraine this month, and will provide armoured personnel carriers in February. It has approved 200 million Euros (USD 219 million) in support for Kyiv, he said. Zelenskyy said on his official Telegram channel that the focus of his two-day trip to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia is security concerns, Ukraine’s hopes to join the European Union and NATO, and build partnerships in drone production and electronic warfare capacities.

Zelenskyy thanked Lithuania for its military assistance and goodwill. “We know how tiring this long-running war is, and we are interested in Ukraine’s complete victory in it as soon as possible,” 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 and regained independence with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. They joined NATO in 2004, placing themselves under the military protection of the US 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 neighbour 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 in maintaining pressure on friendly countries to keep supplying Kyiv with billions of dollars in weaponry, including German Leopard tanks, US Patriot missile systems, and British Storm Shadow cruise missiles.

That support has tailed off recently, however. A plan by the administration of US 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 3,00,000 delivered so far.