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Wed. 8:25 a.m.: Ukraine’s Zelenskyy opens a visit to the Baltic nations, seeking more aid against Russia’s invasion

In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Lithuania's President Gitanas Nauseda, left, welcomes Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Presidential Courtyard, Vilnius, Lithuania, Jan. 10, 2024. Volodymyr Zelenskyy is on his trip to Baltic countries that started in Lithuania. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy began a visit today to the Baltic countries, arriving in Lithuania as his country seeks to bolster its air defenses amid Russia’s intensified missile and drone onslaughts in the 22-month-old war.

The focus of his two-day trip to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, Zelenskyy said on his official Telegram channel, will be security concerns, Ukraine’s hopes to join the European Union and NATO, and building partnerships in drone production and electronic warfare capacities.

Zelenskyy thanked Lithuania for its military assistance and goodwill. He was expected in Estonia and Latvia on Thursday.

“We know how tiring this long-running war is, and we are interested in Ukraine’s complete victory in it as soon as possible,” Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda told reporters.

The small countries are among Ukraine’s staunchest political, financial and military supporters, and some in the Baltics worry that they could be Moscow’s next target.

They have pushed Kyiv’s other Western allies to provide increasingly sophisticated weapons since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.

The three countries were seized and annexed by Josef Stalin during World War II before regaining independence with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. They joined NATO in 2004, placing themselves under the military protection of the U.S. and its Western allies.

“Democratic countries have done a lot to help Ukraine, but we need to do more together so that Ukraine wins and the aggressor loses,” Estonian President Alar Karis said in a statement.

“Then there is the hope that this will remain the last military aggression in Europe, where someone wants to dictate to their neighbor with missiles, drones and cannons what political choices can be made,” he said.

In his Telegram message, Zelenskyy expressed gratitude to the Baltic countries for their “uncompromising” support of Ukraine over the past 10 years, referring to 2014 when Russia’s aggression started with the illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula.

Russia’s recent escalation of missile and drone attacks is stretching Ukraine’s air defense resources, a Ukrainian air force official said Tuesday, leaving the country vulnerable unless it can secure further weapons supplies.

Zelenskyy’s energetic international diplomacy during the war has been essential to maintain pressure on friendly countries to keep supplying Kyiv with billions of dollars in weaponry, including German Leopard tanks, U.S. Patriot missile systems and British Storm Shadow cruise missiles.

That support has tailed off recently, however. A plan by the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden to send to Kyiv billions of dollars in further aid is stuck in Congress, and Europe’s pledge in March to provide 1 million artillery shells within 12 months has fallen short, with only about 300,000 delivered so far.

Meanwhile, long-range strikes by the Kremlin’s forces have continued.

Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, came under attack from Russian S-300 missiles late Tuesday, said Mayor Ihor Terekhov.

The Russians hit an unoccupied summer camp on the northeastern city’s outskirts, he said on Telegram. Several buildings were damaged but no casualties were reported.

Ukraine also kept up its attempts to hit targets inside Russia.

The Russian Defense Ministry said its air defenses downed a Ukrainian drone earlier today over the Saratov region of southwestern Russia, on the Volga River.

Saratov Gov. Roman Busargin said the drone was downed over the Engels district, which is home to Russia’s main strategic bomber base that have launched cruise missiles at Ukraine. He said there were no casualties or damage.

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