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Ukraine's Zelensky urges allies to speed up assistance as Russia gains ground

A Ukrainian soldier stands near a damaged Russian tank in Kupyansk in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine, on October 4, 2022. (Photo by AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called on its Western allies to speed up the pace of supplying weapons to his country, as Russia continues to gain fresh ground along Ukraine's eastern frontlines.

Zelensky made the plea in an evening video address on Tuesday, saying Russia was in a hurry to achieve as much as it could with its latest push before Ukraine and its allies could gather strength.

"That is why speed is of the essence," he said. "Speed in everything — adopting decisions, carrying out decisions, shipping supplies, training. Speed saves people's lives, speed brings back security, and I thank all our partners who realize that speed is important."

His remarks come as NATO defense ministers began two-day talks on Tuesday to discuss providing further military aid to Ukraine.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the military alliance was planning to increase its ammunition stockpile targets as Kiev was consuming an enormous amount of munitions at a rapid rate.

"Moscow underestimated Ukraine's bravery and NATO unity," Stoltenberg wrote in a post on his Twitter account following the meeting. "We will step up & sustain our support for as long as it takes."

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also said that he expected Ukraine to launch its own offensive against Russia in the spring and Kiev's allies were working to ensure they had the armor, firepower, and logistics to make it effective.

"Ukraine has urgent requirements to help it meet this crucial moment in the course of the war. We believe there'll be a window of opportunity for them to exercise initiative," he said.

Meanwhile, NATO member Norway agreed to send eight German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks and other equipment to Ukraine to aid the country in its war with Russia.

Zelensky has been pressing EU leaders to provide his country with fighter jets, but some NATO countries appear to be hesitant, stressing that a decision on the matter should be a collective one.

Fighter jets not a focus now: Germany 

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius also said supplying Ukraine with fighter jets was not a focus at the moment but would certainly be discussed. He said the priority was to ensure the safety of the airspace over Ukraine, which requires an operational air defense system with enough ammunition.

"If the sky over Ukraine remains safe for the next three to four months, then we can talk about all the further steps," Pistorius said.

The Kremlin criticized NATO for showing "hostility" toward Moscow every day.

The latest development comes as Russia has intensified operations across swathes of southern and eastern Ukraine, and a major new offensive has been widely expected, as the war nears its first anniversary.

The eastern city of Bakhmut, partially overtaken by Russia, is Moscow's prime objective and its capture would give Moscow a fresh foothold in the region. The battle to seize the heavily-fortified town has been spearheaded by members of Russia's Wagner group, which has made small but steady gains.

Russia now holds swathes of the southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, nearly all of Luhansk, and over half of Donetsk, including the regional capital.

Russia launched what it calls "a special military operation" in Ukraine on February 24, 2022, over the perceived threat of the ex-Soviet republic joining NATO. Since then, the United States and Ukraine's other allies have sent Kiev tens of billions of dollars' worth of weapons, including rocket systems, drones, armored vehicles, tanks, and communication systems.

Western countries have also imposed a slew of economic sanctions on Moscow. The Kremlin has said the sanctions and the Western military assistance will only prolong the war.

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