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Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy Again Presses West For Advanced Weapons

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KYIV, Dec 13 (AP): Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pressed Western leaders on Monday to provide more advanced weapons to help his country in its war with Russia, and he repeated his calls for Russian forces to withdraw from occupied areas of Ukraine, suggesting Christmas as a retreat date.

During a video conference, Zelenskky told host Germany and other leaders of the Group of Seven industrial powers: “It would be right to begin the withdrawal of Russian troops from the internationally recognized territory of Ukraine this Christmas. If Russia withdraws its troops from Ukraine, then a reliable cessation of hostilities will be ensured.”

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He added: “The answer from Moscow will show what they really want there: either a further confrontation with the world, or finally an end to aggression.”

The Kremlin has rejected all previous appeals to reverse its land grabs in Ukraine. It didn’t immediately respond to this latest one.

The two countries haven’t engaged in any recent peace talks and there is no end in sight for the war, which is in its 10th month and has killed and wounded tens of thousands of people and left dozens of Ukrainian cities and towns in ruins.

Russia has illegally annexed parts of eastern and southern Ukraine, including the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, though it doesn’t fully control all of them. Zelenskyy has said his goal is to reclaim all occupied territory, while Russian President Vladimir Putin insists on solidifying his forces’ control over the areas.

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In his address to the G-7, Zelenskyy echoed his prime minister’s on Sunday appeal for long-range missiles, modern tanks, artillery and missile batteries and other high-tech air defense systems to counter Russian attacks that have knocked out electricity and water supplies for millions of Ukrainians. He acknowledged that, “Unfortunately, Russia still has an advantage in artillery and missiles.

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal told French broadcaster LCI that in addition to making Ukrainians suffer, Russia wants to swamp Europe with a new wave of Ukrainian refugees by continuing to strike power stations and other infrastructure. Zelenskyy said protecting Ukraine’s energy facilities from Russian missiles and Iranian drones “will be the protection of the whole of Europe, since with these strikes Russia is provoking a humanitarian and migration catastrophe not only for Ukraine, but also for the entire EU.”

Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, said his nation already has seen an increased demand to shelter refugees.

“The number of refugees in Poland has risen (recently) to some 3 million. That will probably also mean an increase in their numbers in Germany,” Duda said following talks with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin.

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Millions of Ukrainians fled after Russia invaded on February 24. Thousands of people have died and dozens of cities and towns across Ukraine have been reduced to rubble. On Monday, Russia shelling again mostly focused on eastern and southern regions that Putin illegally annexed.

To defend against further strikes, Shmyhal reiterated Ukrainian calls for Patriot surface-to-air missiles — a highly sophisticated system. During the LCI interview, he also asked for more German and French air-defense systems, resupplies of artillery shells and modern battle tanks.

Organizers in France expect more than 45 nations and 20 international institutions to take part in a Paris conference starting Tuesday to raise and coordinate aid for Ukraine’s water, power, food, health and transportation needs during the tough winter months.

Providing Patriot missiles to Ukraine would mark a major advance in the kinds of defense systems the West is sending to help the country repel Russian aerial attacks.

So far, no country has offered them, and such a step would likely mark an escalation in the fight against Russia.

A US official told reporters that the Pentagon has no current plans to send Patriot missiles to Ukraine, but that discussions continue. The key issue is that the complex, high-tech system requires significant maintenance and training, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing operations in Ukraine.

Air defenses were also a topic of a phone call Zelenskyy held on Sunday with US President Joe Biden. Zelenskyy, his office said, told Biden “about 50 per cent of the Ukrainian energy infrastructure was destroyed.”

Biden “highlighted how the US is prioritizing efforts to strengthen Ukraine’s air defense through our security assistance, including the December 9 announcement of USD 275 million in additional ammunition and equipment that included systems to counter the Russian use of unmanned aerial vehicles,” the White House said.

Russian drone attacks near the Black Sea port of Odesa over the weekend destroyed several energy facilities and left all customers except hospitals, maternity homes, boiler plants and pumping stations without power.

The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Mirjana Spoljaric, completed a visit to Ukraine, including Odesa, on Monday. She said she “saw how families have been torn apart and how power cuts and freezing temperatures have increased the suffering for too many during this difficult winter.”

The European Union’s foreign ministers gathered Monday in Brussels to discuss fresh sanctions to further punish Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney sharply condemned “deliberate targeting by Russia of civilians in terms of inflicting suffering on a broad population.”

He described Russia’s actions as “a crime, in terms of both aggression and a crime against humanity.”

Slovakia said that in cooperation with Germany, it has opened a center to repair Ukrainian howitzers and air defense systems of Western origin. The center is located inside a military base in the town of Michalovce, some 35 kilometers (22 miles) west of the border with Ukraine, the EU member nation’s Defense Ministry said.

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