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Zelensky and Scholz make an urgent call for more air defense in Berlin


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz made an urgent appeal to provide Ukraine with more air defense systems at the start of an international reconstruction conference in Berlin on Tuesday.

Scholz called on his allies to support a German initiative to strengthen Ukraine’s air defense “with everything possible.”

“Because the best reconstruction is the one that doesn’t have to happen in the first place,” Scholz said.

Zelensky said his country will soon need at least seven more Patriot air defense missile systems to protect major cities from frequent Russian air attacks.

He also said his country needs more help rebuilding energy infrastructure that has been ravaged by frequent Russian attacks.

Zelensky’s remarks at the Berlin conference were regularly interrupted by applause from the assembled leaders and officials of business and international organizations.

The Berlin Conference aims to bring together approximately 2,000 people from around the world involved in development and reconstruction efforts in Ukraine. It is not expected that it will be a donor conference aimed at raising money.

Zelensky is also expected to give a speech to the German parliament, the Bundestag, in Berlin on Tuesday afternoon. The trip is his third visit to Berlin since the start of the all-out Russian invasion in February 2022.

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In his speech at the conference, Zelensky thanked the German government for its efforts to provide more air defense and other assistance, including two Patriot systems and the promise of a third, on which Ukrainian soldiers are currently being trained.

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani announced at the conference on Tuesday that Italy is prepared to send a new military package with air defense equipment.

But despite the aid received so far, Russian forces still have a strategic advantage in the air, Zelensky said, with glide bombs, missiles and drones causing serious damage.

Zelensky said the only way to get Russian President Vladimir Putin to negotiate peace is to deny him the opportunity to use force to make gains in Ukraine.

Zelensky accused Putin of using Ukraine’s electricity supply as a weapon against its people, with Russian airstrikes knocking out about nine gigawatts of power generation capacity.

Last winter, Ukraine’s energy consumption peaked at about 18 gigawatts, and the country now faces serious potential shortages, Zelensky said.

He said about 80% of heat generation and a third of hydropower have been destroyed by Russian attacks, which also targeted gas storage facilities.

Without international investment and loans, Zelensky warned that Ukraine would likely fail to rebuild its energy system.

In his remarks, Scholz raised the prospect of far-reaching and long-term commitments to rebuild the country, which has been severely scarred by more than two years of costly all-out war and years of simmering conflict before that.

Scholz said he will push for these kinds of commitments at an upcoming summit of the G7 group of rich democratic countries, starting Thursday in Italy.

The chancellor pointed out that the World Bank estimates that $500 billion in reconstruction aid will be needed over the next decade.

He also called on private companies to participate in investments: “Given the size we are talking about here, private capital must be involved.”

Hundreds of German companies continue to actively do business in Ukraine, with car companies employing around 35,000 people in Ukraine alone, Scholz points out.

Despite the war, there had been no reduction in German investment in Ukraine, Scholz said, and trade volume had increased significantly since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

“All this shows me that the business community understands the potential of Ukraine,” Scholz said.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also expressed her support on Tuesday for opening EU accession negotiations with Ukraine from the end of June.

Ukraine has implemented all agreed reform measures, she said.

Ukraine currently has the status of a candidate for accession to the EU. An EU summit in December last year decided to start accession negotiations, but no date has yet been agreed for the start of talks. Hungary said it still has additional requirements.

Von der Leyen announced that the country would receive an additional 1.9 billion euros from the new support program for Ukraine at the end of June, and that much additional financing could follow.

She said the financing is also a recognition of the comprehensive reforms in the country and that the EU is supporting Ukraine in its economic recovery, reconstruction and modernization.

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