Zelenskyy's plea to allies: 'Means of destruction ... needed at the front right now'

Russian troops load an Iskander missile onto a mobile launcher during drills at an undisclosed location in Russia, in this photo released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, Feb 2, 2024. [AP Photo]

In his nightly video address on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy again made a plea for the immediate arrival of weapons as his country continues its battle to beat back Russia.

While some countries, including the U.S., have promised weapons and other military equipment, their arrival in Ukraine has been slow. Zelenskyy, who met with his defense officials earlier in the day, said it is imperative that countries supporting Ukraine understand “the means of destruction that are needed at the front right now, in these weeks, not sometime in the summer.”

Meanwhile, Russia has begun “practical training in the preparation and use of nonstrategic nuclear weapons,” its Defense Ministry said Tuesday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the drills earlier this month in "response to provocative statements and threats by Western officials,” the ministry said.

French President Emmanuel Macron has said NATO should not rule out deploying troops to Ukraine, while British Foreign Minister David Cameron has said Ukraine has the right to fire Western missiles into Russian territory.

The drills are being conducted in Russia’s southern military district, which borders Ukraine and also includes parts of Ukraine that Russia claims it has annexed.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the training is designed to test “the readiness of personnel and equipment of nonstrategic nuclear weapons combat units to respond and to unconditionally ensure the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Russian state.”

It was not immediately clear if any test firings have occurred.

The West has accused Putin of irresponsible nuclear saber-rattling.

Nonstrategic nuclear weapons, also known as tactical, are less powerful than strategic nuclear weapons, but they also have the capacity to wield devastating destruction.

The governor of Ukraine’s Kharkiv region said Tuesday the area was under Russian bombardment all night, while Ukraine’s military said the country’s air defenses shot down 28 of 29 Russian drones launched at multiple Ukrainian regions.

Kharkiv Governor Oleh Syniehubov said falling debris from destroyed drones damaged several houses and injured at least three people.

Serhiy Lysak, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, said falling drone debris damaged commercial buildings.

The latest attacks came after Zelenskyy again appealed to allies to better equip Ukraine with air defense systems and new combat aircraft.

“Unfortunately, the free world still lacks efficiency in these two tasks,” Zelenskyy said. “But we still have a perspective and promising work with several partners — and we are doing everything to make sure that the day comes as soon as possible when we can add the power of ‘Patriots’ [air-defense batteries] to our eastern regions, our cities — such as Kharkiv, Sumy and others.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry said Tuesday its air defenses destroyed a guided missile and two aerial drones over the Belgorod region, and another drone over the Kursk region.

Vyacheslav Gladkov, the regional governor of Belgorod, said a Ukrainian drone attack hit a car, killing at least one person.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and at least 50 other defense leaders from Europe and around the world met Monday to coordinate military support to Ukraine as it battles a renewed onslaught from Russia in the Kharkiv region.

Austin said Monday’s meeting came at “a moment of challenge” and promised to move U.S. weapons to Ukraine “week after week.”

The U.S. Congress and President Joe Biden approved a $61 billion aid package for Ukraine in late April after political gridlock largely stalled shipments to help Ukraine’s military for months.

Russia during that time intensified its invasion of Ukraine, especially with its campaign in Kharkiv.

Austin said Monday the latest U.S. aid package would help Ukraine in Kharkiv and other areas facing Russian pressure.

“We've already delivered many of Ukraine's top-priority requirements, and much more assistance is on the way. That includes additional munitions for NASAMS and Patriot air-defense systems, more HIMARS systems and ammunition, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, and Javelin and AT-4 anti-armor systems,” Austin said. “This package also includes armored vehicles, and that's essential for Ukraine's work to reconstitute its arsenal.”