NATO Chief Says Russia Using Winter As Weapon

The foreign ministers of seven Nordic and Baltic counties vowed Monday to provide more military, economic and humanitarian aid to help Ukraine withstand Russian attacks not only on the battlefield but against civilian targets, which account for most of the Kremlin’s aims.

With winter approaching and temperatures already dipping below freezing in many parts of the country, Ukraine is facing an energy crisis after weeks of Russia pummeling its power facilities with air strikes. About 40% of Ukraine’s energy sector has been damaged or destroyed.

“We have agreements on further cooperation in the defense and energy spheres, in the reconstruction projects of our state and in the sanctions sphere,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said after meeting in Kyiv with the ministers from Sweden, Finland, Norway, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Iceland.

Sweden said it had provided a nearly $280 million package of air defense systems, ammunition, all-terrain vehicles and personal winter gear for troops. Finland pledged to take in more Ukrainian refugees. In Washington, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. is working with partners and allies to provide energy and water replacement equipment.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba asked for more air defenses “to break this vicious cycle” of Russia destroying infrastructure and Ukraine rebuilding it.

Of the more than 16,000 missiles Russia has fired at Ukraine in the war, 97% have been aimed at civilian targets, Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov tweeted. “We are fighting against a terrorist state,” Reznikov said. “Ukraine will prevail and will bring the war criminals to justice.”

Latest developments:

►Zelenskyy acknowledged the situation at the front remains “very difficult,” especially in the Donetsk province, part of the eastern Donbas region that Russia has claimed to annex. Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said residents “have been living in catastrophic conditions without power or heating.”

►Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that Russian forces will leave the occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. Petro Kotin, head of Ukraine’s state nuclear energy operator Energoatom, said last week that the company saw signs Russia was preparing to leave the battered plant.

►After retreating from the southern city of Kherson this month, Russian troops have continued to bombard it from across the Dnieper River. Britain’s Defense Ministry reported a record-high 54 strikes Sunday.

►Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei, a longtime ally of Kremlin-friendly President Alexander Lukashenko, died suddenly over the weekend at age 64. The ministry announced his death but did not disclose a cause.

RUSSIA MAY BE PREPPING TO ABANDON NUKE PLANT:Russian says troops need more docs, equipment: Ukraine updates

Putin using ‘winter as a weapon’
Russian President Vladimir Putin is intent on using frost, snow and ice to his advantage on the battlefield and against Ukrainian civilians facing a winter of unreliable energy for heat amid unrelenting Russian bombings, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday.

That is why NATO’s allies are stepping up their support for Ukraine, Stoltenberg said on the eve of NATO foreign ministers meeting in Bucharest, Romania.

“President Putin is now trying to use the winter as a weapon of war against Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said. “This is horrific, and we need to be prepared for more attacks.”

The seven foreign ministers who visited Kyiv on Monday pledged to send generators, cold-weather clothing and food to help the Ukrainians, who are bracing for temperatures in the teens next week.

Zelenskyy warned that Russian troops were preparing new strikes.

“As long as they have missiles, they won’t stop, unfortunately,” Zelenskyy warned. “The upcoming week can be as hard as the one that passed.”

Kyiv prepares for evacuations as bombings intensify
Some of Kyiv’s 3 million people might need to be evacuated to places where essential services would be less prone to shutdowns caused by Russia’s intensifying missile attacks, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said Monday. Russia has pounded energy facilities around Kyiv with a barrage of missile and drone strikes, resulting in power outages and disruption in water supplies to the city. Klitschko said the “worst-case scenario” can’t be ruled out and preferred the term “relocation” as opposed to evacuation.

“There will not be a complete evacuation. Perhaps a partial one,” Klitschko told the Ukraine media outlet RBC. “This is a temporary relocation of certain categories of people to the suburbs, where there may be services.”

Ukraine brings back rolling outages, citing demand because of cold weather
Ukraine’s state grid operator Ukrenergo resumed emergency cutoffs across the country Monday, citing the need to balance the power system and ease network emergencies. The company said in a statement that consumption continues to rise because of deteriorating weather conditions. The power deficit was at 27%. The company described damage to its system from Russian rocket attacks as “massive,” but added that repairs are continuing around the clock.

“Once the causes of emergency outages are resolved, the blocs will return to work, reducing power shortages and consumer limitations,” the company said.

Pentagon may send Ukraine weapons with nearly 100-mile range, report says
The U.S. is pondering whether to provide Ukraine with small precision bombs with a range of nearly 100 miles that could strike beyond Russian lines,Reuters reported Monday.

Ukraine has had great success destroying Russian weapons depots and disrupting their supply lines with Pentagon-provided HIMARS launchers, whose rockets can travel up to miles.

The new weapon under consideration, based on a Boeing proposal, is known as the Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb. Its 94-mile range may enable Ukraine to continue making inroads in its counteroffensive by hitting more-distant Russian targets, the report said. Delivery would be targeted for early in the spring.

Ukraine first lady: Russians using rape as ‘another weapon’ in war
Russian troops have been “systematically and openly” committing rape and other acts of sexual violence against Ukrainian women as part of Moscow’s war effort, Ukraine’s first lady said Monday in London.

Speaking at an international conference on preventing sexual violence in conflicts, Olensa Zelenska said Russia must be held accountable for sexual aggression so brazen, its soldiers have been heard on phone recordings openly talking about it with relatives at home.

“Sexual violence is the most cruel, most animalistic way to prove mastership over someone,” Zelenska said. “This is another weapon in (Russia’s) arsenal in this war.”

Zelenska is expected to address British lawmakers Tuesday as part of her U.K. visit.

Contributing: The Associated Press