Europe’s week: Russian missile strikes & nuclear tensions escalate
Here is a roundup of Europe’s top stories from the week.
As the Ukrainian counteroffensive in the east and south showed no sign of abating, Russian cruise missiles rained down on cities across the country on Monday.
The barrage of bombs was considered among the biggest air raids since the start of the war in February. The attacks struck mainly energy facilities and civilian areas.
Big cities like Kyiv and Lviv experienced serious power outages and issues with water supplies.
European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, voiced her outrage on Monday.
“I am shocked and appalled by the vicious attack on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities. Russia once again has shown to the world what it stands for. It is terror and brutality,” she said.
Kyiv wants more military equipment
Despite this setback, the Ukrainians have been more than holding their own, even with Soviet-era defensive weapons. But this week’s Russian attacks prompted calls to better equip them.
Comments before and after a NATO meeting in Brussels signalled a hardening of western determination to back Ukraine, as many denounce the Russian attacks on civilian targets as war crimes.
NATO Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, reaffirmed the West’s commitment to Kyiv.
“We will stand by Ukraine for as long as it takes. We will step up our support and in particular, we will provide more air defence systems to Ukraine.”
Nuclear tensions escalate
NATO will go ahead with nuclear exercises next week, despite escalating tensions between the West and Russia following Vladimir Putin’s thinly veiled threats to use nuclear weapons.
Stoltenberg said the annual exercises are routine and were planned long before the Kremlin invaded Ukraine.
But when asked if they were a good idea given the delicate situation with Moscow, Stoltenberg said it would not be a good look to stop them now.
“It would send a very wrong signal if we suddenly now cancelled a routine, long-time planned exercise because of the war in Ukraine. That would be absolutely the wrong signal to send,” the Secretary-General told reporters in Brussels.
“NATO’s firm, predictable behaviour, our military strength, is the best way to prevent escalation,” he added. “If we now created the grounds for any misunderstandings, miscalculations in Moscow about our willingness to protect and defend all allies, we would increase the risk of escalation.”
The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, was quick to warn Moscow too when it comes to the use of nuclear weapons.
He said any such strike against Ukraine would trigger “such a powerful answer” from the West that the Russian army would be “annihilated.”
“There is the nuclear threat, and Putin is saying he is not bluffing. Well, he cannot afford bluffing,” Borrell said during a European Diplomatic Academy event in Bruges.
“It has to be clear that the people supporting Ukraine and the European Union and the member states, and the United States and NATO are not bluffing neither.”
“And any nuclear attack against Ukraine will create an answer — not a nuclear answer but such a powerful answer from the military side — that the Russian army will be annihilated, and Putin should not be bluffing,” he said.
UN setback for Moscow
In the meantime, at the United Nations in New York, Russia suffered a crushing defeat.
A resolution slamming Moscow’s illegal annexation of Ukrainian territory garnered a much larger-than-expected result.
The vote was 143-5 with 35 abstentions, a sign of strong global opposition to the seven-month war and Moscow’s attempt to grab its neighbour’s territory.
North Korea, Belarus, Syria and Nicaragua joined Russia in voting against the resolution, while 19 African countries abstained – including South Africa – along with China, India, Pakistan and Cuba.
Among the surprise supporters of Wednesday evening’s resolution were the “yes” votes from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council as well as Brazil.
Russia’s UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, had appealed to countries to vote against the resolution, denouncing its sponsors as “unscrupulous Western blackmailers.”