Zelenskyy hopes to make Ukraine a leading weapons manufacturer


People attend a concert dedicated to the first anniversary of the annexation of four regions of Ukraine that Russian troops control Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia at Red Square in Moscow, Sept. 29, 2023. [AP Photo]

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hosted Ukraine’s first Industry Defense Forum on Saturday, aimed at developing a domestic defense industry by partnering with Western manufacturers so that Ukraine can build its own weapons.

Weapons producers from more than 30 countries attended and discussed how to partner with Ukraine to build and repair weapons in Ukraine even as it is under constant Russian bombardment.

In his nightly video address, Zelenskyy described the first Defense Industries Forum as “extremely successful,” reflecting weapons producers’ interest in “working in Ukraine and with Ukraine in the production of weapons and everything necessary for the real defense of any free nation,” he said.

Zelenskyy said he hopes to turn Ukraine into a military hub.

“Our country will become one of the world's key producers of weapons and defense systems. And this is no longer just an ambition or a prospect, it is a potential that is already being realized,” he said.

“Ukraine is in such a phase of the defense marathon when it is very important, critical to go forward without retreating. Results from the front line are needed daily," Zelenskyy told the representatives from more than 250 Western weapons producers.

He said that air defense and de-mining were his top priorities while he also aims to boost domestic production of missiles, drones, and artillery ammunition.

Some of the executives said they have struggled to ramp up their production to meet Ukrainian demand.

Ukrainian officials also see the development of domestic defense production as a boost to the economy, which shrunk by about a third last year because of the war.

Annexed regions chose Russia, says Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Saturday the local elections in four Russian-annexed Ukrainian regions earlier this month were conducted “in full accordance with international norms” and that the residents there chose to be part of Russia.

Putin made his comments in an address marking the first anniversary of the annexation of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions in the east of the country.

Putin referred to Russia’s Central Election Commission claim that the country’s ruling party won the most votes.

Ukraine has denounced both the referendum votes carried out last year and the recent ballots as a sham to justify Russia’s tightening grip on the illegally annexed territories a year ago.

Putin’s address came after Russia’s Defense Ministry said Friday it would enlist 130,000 men for compulsory military service beginning Sunday in most regions of the country, including in the annexed regions of Ukraine as part of its twice-yearly military conscription campaign.

The conscripts are at least 18 years old, and Russia says they are not deployed to what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine, or to serve in the annexed territories. After one year of service, though, they automatically become reservists, and Russia has previously deployed reservists to Ukraine.

Ukraine says it downs drones

Five people were wounded Saturday in two missile strikes on the village of Matviivka, in the northeastern part of the Ukrainian-controlled regional capital Zaporizhzhia, its Governor Yurii Malashko said.

Ukrainian air defenses shot down 30 out of 40 Iranian-made drones aimed at the Odesa, Mykolaiv and Vinnytsia provinces overnight, the Ukrainian air force said Saturday.

Vinnytsia regional Governor Serhii Borzov said that air defenses shot down 20 drones over his central Ukrainian region but that a fire broke out in the town of Kalynivka when a drone struck an unspecified infrastructure facility.

In Romania, army radars detected a possible breach of national airspace during an overnight Russian drone attack against neighboring Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure, the defense ministry said Saturday.

After quitting the Black Sea grain deal in mid-July, Russia began targeting Ukrainian ports and warehouses on the Danube River, Kyiv's main alternative export route across from NATO member Romania.

Fragments of possible Russian drones were found on Romanian territory three separate times this month, increasing security risks for NATO, whose members have a mutual defense commitment.

"The Romanian Army's radar surveillance system identified a possible unauthorized breach of national air space, with a signal detected on the route to the town of Galati," the defense ministry said, adding search parties had been deployed.

It said searches will continue throughout Saturday.

In the southern Russian region of Bryansk, a Ukrainian drone attack on Saturday, injured one person and damaged an administrative building, the region's Governor Alexander Bogomaz said on the Telegram messaging app.

Bogomaz said the incident occurred in the town of Trubchevsk. He also reported earlier that a village in the region had been shelled by Ukrainian forces, damaging three homes.

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