By Adam Morrow
Ongoing Russian strikes have taken their toll on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, causing rolling power outages and crippling transport in several parts of the country.
“Naturally, shortages persist,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a Dec. 26 video address. “Blackouts are continuing.”
He went on to assert that roughly 9 million people throughout Ukraine currently lack electricity.
Since mid-October, Russian forces have launched intermittent waves of punishing drone and artillery strikes targeting Ukrainian energy facilities.
According to Ukrainian officials, at least half of the country’s total energy infrastructure has been damaged by repeated barrages.
Kyiv and its Western allies say the strikes are intended to hurt civilian populations and therefore constitute “war crimes.”
Russia, for its part, says its forces employ high-precision munitions to avoid civilian casualties and that the strikes serve a military purpose.
Since the last full-scale barrage in mid-December, chronic power shortages have been reported in and around the capital Kyiv and in the Lviv, Dnipro, and Kharkiv regions.
With the stated aim of defending Ukrainian infrastructure from Russian attack, Kyiv has sought to secure ever more advanced air-defense systems from its powerful Western allies.
Last week, Washington announced plans to provide Ukraine with $1.85 billion in additional military assistance, including delivery of United States-made Patriot air-defense systems.
If delivered, the Patriot system would be the most advanced U.S. surface-to-air missile system given to Ukraine since the conflict began in late February.
The announcement coincided with a high-profile visit to Washington by Zelenskyy, who met with U.S. President Joe Biden and received a hero’s welcome from U.S. Congress.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba hailed the U.S. largesse, saying it would “open the door for other countries to do the same.”
In a Dec. 26 interview with the Associated Press, Kuleba expected the Patriots to be delivered to Kyiv—while Ukrainian troops were fully trained in their use—in “less than six months.”
The Kremlin described the move as a “dangerous escalation” that risked drawing the United States deeper into the conflict.
It also said that Patriot batteries, if delivered to Ukraine, would be viewed as “legitimate targets” by Russian forces.
While the Patriot system is meant to intercept incoming drones, missiles, and artillery rounds, it can also be used to target enemy aircraft.
Rome: Mixed Signals
Unlike the United States, Italy appears more ambivalent on the issue of providing Kyiv with air-defense systems.
On Dec. 28, Italian defense minister Guido Crosetto told the local press that Rome would only send Kyiv its advanced SAMP/T air-defense system “if possible.”
“If we give air-defense missiles to Ukraine, we must take them from our stocks,” Crosetto was quoted as saying by Il Messaggero, a prominent Italian daily.
“And we have to do that without depleting them [while also] ensuring their quality,” he added.
One day earlier, Zelenskyy spoke by phone with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, during which the latter reiterated her support for the Ukrainian war effort.
Shortly after the conversation, Zelenskyy stated in a post on Twitter that Rome was mulling the notion of supplying Kyiv with its air-defense systems.
Meloni, who assumed office in October, has been a vocal supporter of Ukraine.
However, other members of her right-leaning coalition, including Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini, take a softer line vis-a-vis Russia and have openly criticized Western-led sanctions on Moscow.
Greece: S-300s for Patriots?
Athens, meanwhile, has recently hinted at its willingness to supply Kyiv with Russian-made S-300 air-defense systems and other Soviet-Era military equipment.
The proposal, however, comes with a caveat: all S-300s given to Ukraine by Greece should be replaced with Patriot batteries, Greek officials have said.
“If the United States installs a Patriot system on the island of Crete … then the S-300 can be removed,” Greek defense minister Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos said.
Quoted by U.S. magazine Forbes on Dec. 19, he added: “The same applies to any other Russian-made air-defense system they may want to send [from Greece] to Ukraine.”
On the same day, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said that Washington “certainly appreciates the many ways the international community, including Greece, has demonstrated their support for Ukraine.”
He added: “We are looking at ways, whether it is through directly providing security assistance to Ukraine … or in some cases what we can do, what we can provide to other countries so they, in turn, can provide their wares and their supplies to Ukraine.”
On Dec. 22, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova urged Athens to “abandon its dangerous plans,” which, she said, would only serve to degrade Greece’s air-defense capabilities.
As of press time, the U.S. State Department had not yet responded to The Epoch Times’ request for comment on the proposed scheme.
Reuters contributed to this report.