The U.S. and other economically powerful democracies vowed Monday to back Ukraine for “as long as it takes,” with expanded sanctions on Russia and more sophisticated weapons deliveries amid a resurgence of missile attacks by Russian forces, including the first strikes in weeks that have hit civilian targets in Kyiv.
The heads of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations made the promise after a briefing by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He told President Biden and the other leaders gathered in Germany for their annual summit that he needs more leverage and more military victories on the ground before participating in any peace negotiations with Russia, which controls much of the eastern border of his country.
Mr. Zelenskyy, addressing the gathering via video link, pushed for more air defense systems to stave off Russian bombardments and stressed the urgency of the moment. Russian forces have spent recent weeks violently pushing to secure control of a key area of the Ukrainian east.
Russia has renewed strikes on other areas of Ukraine as the war pushes deeper into its fifth month. The conflict has remained at center stage in global geopolitics, dominating the G-7 summit of leaders from the U.S., Britain, France, Canada, Germany, Italy and Japan. It also will be the central focus of a NATO gathering in Madrid on Wednesday.
Although the G-7 nations stopped short of formalizing any major policy announcements, officials said plans are in the works for a range of sanctions, a price cap on Russian oil and an increase on tariffs targeting several other Russian goods.
The White House said Mr. Biden is pushing for sanctions to “sap” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military-industrial complex and strangle its economy. The targets will include hundreds of products, individuals and entities in addition to the more than 1,000 already punished.
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Administration officials said sanctions are specifically in the works to restrict visas for private military companies involved Russia’sa’s invasion of Ukraine and on Russians who commit war crimes, steal Ukrainian grain or join sham governments in occupied Ukrainian towns.
Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said NATO members are poised to approve a massive increase in troops at a state of high readiness in response to Russia‘s aggression and that the Western military alliance would double or triple the size of its forces stationed in the Baltic countries and other “front-line” states near the Russian border. The NATO chief said the moves are the biggest shift in NATO deployment strategy since the end of the Cold War.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters that air defense systems were Mr. Zelenskyy’s top request, followed by economic support to help his government meet its financial obligations.
Ukraine‘s plight was underscored Monday by a Russian missile strike on a crowded shopping center in the central city of Kremenchuk. Officials said 1,000 civilians were in the mall with at least 13 people confirmed dead and dozens wounded as of Monday evening. A recent salvo of Russian missiles targeting the capital of Kyiv has some worried that the Kremlin is looking to expand on advances in the east to threaten more of the country.
The U.N. Security Council announced that it will hold a special session Tuesday to discuss attacks on civilians. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said in a Twitter post that the pattern of attacks since Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 was “absolutely sickening.”
Aid for Kyiv
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With that as a backdrop, Mr. Biden is expected to announce that the U.S. is purchasing NASAMS, a Norwegian-developed anti-aircraft system, to provide medium- to long-range defense for Ukraine, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity. NASAMS is the system the U.S. uses to protect the sensitive airspace around the White House and the Capitol.
Additional aid will include more ammunition and counterbattery radars to help Ukraine combat the Russian assault in the Donbas, the person said, according to The Associated Press. Mr. Biden is also announcing a $7.5 billion commitment to help the Ukrainian government meet its expenses as part of a drawdown of the $40 billion military and economic aid package he signed into law last month.
Mr. Sullivan told reporters that Mr. Zelenskyy also briefed the G-7 leaders on how Kyiv is using the assistance it has received “to maximize Ukraine’s capacity both to resist Russian advances and to pursue counterattacks where possible,” Mr. Sullivan said.
The Ukrainian leader was “very much focused on trying to ensure that Ukraine is in as advantageous a position on the battlefield as possible” in the coming months because “he believes that a grinding conflict is not in the interest of the Ukrainian people,” Mr. Sullivan said.
A French diplomat told the AP on the condition of anonymity that Mr. Zelenskyy told the leaders he needs to be in a stronger position before engaging in peace talks with Russia.
After hearing from the Ukrainian president, the G-7 leaders said in a statement that it is up to Ukraine to decide on any peace settlement with Russia and pledged to support Ukraine “for as long as it takes.” However, speculation has swirled through the world’s media in recent weeks over the extent to which Western nations remain unified on how to exert pressure on Russia. European polls show rising popular support for a negotiated cease-fire leaving at least some new Ukrainian territory in Russian hands.
Many of the behind-the-scenes meetings at the G-7 summit are focused on preventing the Ukraine war’s economic fallout from fracturing the global coalition imposing sanctions on Russia. Concerns about the strength of the coalition have grown amid fears that Moscow could widen an energy crisis by cutting natural gas flows to Europe.
Despite those concerns, some analysts are highlighting the momentum at the summit while cautioning against too much optimism.
The summit “has made more palpable progress in stopping Russia’s war machine,” said Iulia-Sabina Joja, who heads the Frontier Europe Initiative at the Middle East Institute.
“G-7 leaders promised to cap the price of Russian oil, its main source of revenue. The world energy crisis created by Russia sent oil prices sky high, which actually increased Moscow’s revenues despite the EU sanctions on Russian oil,” Ms. Joja wrote in an analysis circulated Monday. “The challenge will be to impose an oil price cap on Russian products that includes Moscow’s main customers, China and India. But whether this G-7 summit will succeed and if this measure will have a major impact on Russia’s main source of revenue remains to be seen.”
Signs of progress emerged about a deal to seek a price cap on Russian oil. A senior Biden administration official expressed confidence privately that G-7 finance ministers would resolve details.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who is hosting the summit in the Bavarian Alps, said after meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that “we are taking tough decisions, that we are also cautious, that we will help … Ukraine as much as possible but that we also avoid that there will be a big conflict between Russia and NATO.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the G-7 has to “continue to help the Ukrainians to rebuild their economy, to get their grain out, to export their grain and, of course, we have to help them to protect themselves. And that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”
• Tom Howell Jr. contributed this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.