“If we let that be challenged with impunity, then the foundations of the international order will start to erode and eventually crumble, and none of us can afford to let that happen,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in remarks alongside German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.
Missiles slam Ukraine as Russia strikes infrastructure in new air barrage
The G-7 statement signed by each nation announced the establishment of a “coordination mechanism” to help Ukraine “repair, restore and defend its critical energy and water infrastructure.” It did not set a timeline for implementation, but diplomats attending the event said it was important to act immediately given the onset of winter.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “seems to have decided if he can’t seize Ukraine by force, he will try to freeze it into submission,” Blinken told reporters at a news conference.
The meetings of ministers from the United States, Germany, France, Britain, Japan, Canada and Italy also included discussions on providing Ukraine sophisticated air defense systems to fend off volleys of Russian missile and drone strikes, officials said.
Ukraine wants more air defense. Here’s how it works.
The decision to fortify Ukraine’s infrastructure followed a remote video briefing from Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Thursday that was disrupted by a blackout due to chronic energy shortages.
Once the connection was reestablished, Kuleba finished updating the countries on the extensive damage done to Ukraine’s infrastructure by Iranian-provided drones and appealed for more global support and pressure on Russia. Forty percent of Ukraine’s power system has been damaged by Russian attacks that have left 4.5 million people throughout the country without power, including 450,000 residents in Kyiv.
“They discussed what needs Ukraine was facing as it heads into the winter,” said a senior State Department official who, like some others interviewed for this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive deliberations surrounding the war. “That’s something that will be a core focus of this group in the days and weeks ahead.”
A French official said the West is focused on how it can help the inhabitants of Ukrainian towns survive the winter, by providing generators, fuel and spare parts to areas struggling to meet their energy and heating needs.
Winter nears in Ukraine — and a battle of stamina awaits
The discussion came at what could be another inflection point for the war. While some US officials question Ukraine’s ability to completely oust Russia from occupied areas, Ukrainian forces continue to make battlefield gains, including around the southern city of Kherson, which Russia has occupied for months.
The next few weeks there are expected to be dynamic, a US defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to detail internal assessments, said this week. Russian military leaders have withdrawn to the eastern bank of the Dnieper River, outside Kherson, leaving rank-and-file troops to face Ukrainian assaults. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters Thursday that Ukraine “certainly” has the capability to take back all the territory west of the river.
Why Putin will fight for Kherson: Fresh water and land bridge to Crimea
On Friday, the Pentagon disclosed that it will pay to refurbish 45 Czech T-72 tanks and send them to Ukraine, part of a new $400 million military aid package that also includes drones, air defense missiles, riverine boats and money to refurbish M1117 armored vehicles. The Netherlands also paid to refurbish and send an additional 45 Czech tanks.
Work is ongoing to send Ukraine other weapons, both from the United States and allies in Europe. Ukraine is expected to need a significant amount of artillery going forward as it launches between 4,000 and 7,000 rounds per day, the US defense official said, putting the Russian figure at about 20,000.
In Germany, the group of democracies strongly warned Russia against using nuclear weapons in Ukraine and rejected Moscow’s claims that Ukraine was preparing to detonate a “dirty bomb.”
“Russia’s irresponsible nuclear rhetoric is unacceptable,” the statement said. “Any use of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons by Russia would be met with severe consequences.”
Russia’s claims about a dirty bomb first emerged late last month, triggering phone calls among US officials, allies and Russian leaders. Concerns about the issue have “tamped down a bit” since then, the US defense official said.
Russian military leaders’ talk of nuclear attack rattles US calculus
The unease over Russia’s nuclear rhetoric was evident Friday in Beijing, where German Chancellor Olaf Scholz urged China’s president, Xi Jinping, to use his “influence” over Putin to help resolve the war. Xi said nations should “oppose the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons,” but he called the international situation “complex” and urged all nations to “exercise rationality and restraint.”
Reacting to Xi’s remarks, Baerbock, the German foreign minister, said she was “pleased to hear” an important ally of Russia send a “very important signal” against the potential use of nuclear weapons. “Russia,” she said, “is totally isolated.”
Still, Scholz’s trip to China has divided Western countries, some of whom have complained that Germany is repeating the mistakes it made ahead of the war in Ukraine by becoming overly dependent on the business of an authoritarian regime.
While US and British officials have raised concerns about the visit, the first by a G-7 leader since Xi cemented his power at the ruling-party congress, other Western officials have warned against taking an explicitly antagonistic approach to Beijing.
“It is clear that China is … becoming much more assertive, much more on a self-reliant course,” Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, told reporters at the G-7. “But for the time being, many member states have a strong economic relationship with China, and I don’t think we can put China and Russia on the same level.”
In the negotiated G-7 statement, the countries said they aim for “constructive cooperation with China” but also warned Beijing against trying to resolve disputes through “threats, coercion, intimidation, or the use of force.”
The meeting comes as G-7 nations finalize the details of a price cap on Russian oil. The unprecedented plan could deprive Russia of oil revenue critical to funding the Kremlin’s war machine. But the complex arrangement also runs the risk of increasing gas prices.
When asked whether he could assure that the move would not increase gas prices, Blinken said that “we’ll see how this plays out” but that he believed the plan under negotiation would keep enough energy on the market while reducing revenue to the Kremlin.
On Friday, G-7 countries held meetings on challenges that Central Asian countries are facing as a result of the war in Ukraine. They are also focusing on collaboration with African countries on climate change, the coronavirus, and food and energy security, the US official said.
Lamothe reported from Washington. Karoun Demirjian in Washington contributed to this report.