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Zelenskyy joins G-7 summit as U.S. plans to send Ukraine new missile defense system

NBC News logo NBC News 6/27/2022 Shannon Pettypiece and Kelly O'Donnell
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TELFS, Austria — World leaders at the Group of Seven summit in Germany on Monday vowed to support Ukraine “for as long as it takes” after meeting virtually with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as the United States and its allies readied new efforts to aid Kyiv’s defense against Russia.

Washington was preparing to send new military assistance while President Joe Biden and the leaders of the other major global economies sought to illustrate their long-term commitment to Ukraine’s cause by finalizing plans to pursue a price cap on Russian oil, impose new sanctions on the Kremlin and raise tariffs on Russian goods.

A senior administration official at the G-7 said the U.S. is planning to provide a medium-to-long range surface to air missile system for Ukraine, which would up its capabilities to combat Russian strikes from further distance. The U.S. will likely announce the purchase of the system this week along with other security assistance, including additional artillery ammunition and counter-battery radars, said another administration official familiar with the plans.

Zelenskyy has been pleading with the G-7 leaders to speed the support they have pledged, increase the weaponry they are supplying and cut off Russian energy imports. His remarks to the group come as Ukrainian forces struggle to hang on to the key eastern region of Luhansk in the face of Russian forces' advance.

Hours before the summit began on Sunday, Russian missiles struck a residential building in Kyiv.

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Following the meeting with Zelenskyy, the G-7 leaders put out a joint statement of support for Ukraine saying they will continue to provide defense and humanitarian assistance to the country and push to hold Russia accountable for its invasion.

"We will continue to provide financial, humanitarian, military and diplomatic support and stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes," the statement said. "As we do so, we commit to demonstrate global responsibility and solidarity through working to address the international impacts of Russia’s aggression, especially on the most vulnerable."

While the heads of state intended to show a united front at the summit, diverging views have started to emerge among European leaders in recent months over whether or not Ukraine should cede some territory to Russia to end the war. In the statement Monday the group said it will be up to Ukraine to determine how to resolve the conflict.

"It is up to Ukraine to decide on a future peace settlement, free from external pressure or influence," the group said.

“Ukraine feels the support of the G-7 states. Thank you for your defense and financial assistance to our country in the fight against the Russian invasion,” Zelenskyy said in a statement posted by his office after his video address. “For us, the consistent position of the G-7 countries on sanctions is also important. They should continue to increase, in particular by limiting the price of oil exported by the aggressor.”

One key move being discussed is the price cap on Russian oil exports.

The leaders will continue discussing that step, which could cut into the Kremlin’s energy revenue, and they are expected to direct officials in their countries to work to develop mechanisms to set a global price cap, said a second senior administration official in a briefing with reporters.

“The goal here is to starve Russia, starve Putin of his main source of cash and force down the price of Russian oil to help blunt the impact of Putin’s war at the pump,” the official said.

The U.S. also announced Monday that it will seek to increase the tariff rate of more than 570 groups of Russian products worth approximately $2.3 billion, the second senior administration official said. The proceeds from those tariffs would go directly to assisting Ukraine.

The G-7 leaders also plan to announce expanded sanctions targeting Russian defense capabilities aimed at preventing Russia from replenishing the weapons it is using against Ukraine, the second official said. The leaders already agreed to ban imports of Russian gold, a person familiar with the matter said on Sunday, which is the second largest export for Russia after energy and a source of significant revenue.

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There are some signs the pressure from the U.S. and its allies is starting to take a toll on Moscow's finances, with the country defaulting on foreign debt on Sunday for the first time in more than a century after its attempts to pay in its ruble currency were blocked by international sanctions.

Ahead of his trip, Biden authorized another $450 million in weaponry to be sent to Ukraine, bringing the total U.S. commitment to $6.1 billion since the start of the war.

Zelenskyy is also scheduled to speak virtually to the NATO summit in Madrid later this week where leaders plan to announce new force posture commitments to strengthen the alliance’s defense and deter Russia from invading NATO member countries.

The leaders of France, Germany and Italy offered a show of unity for Zelenskyy last month when they made a joint visit to Kyiv and vowed to back Ukraine’s candidacy to join the European Union. Biden has said he doesn’t plan to travel to Ukraine during his swing through Europe this week, making him one of the few G-7 leaders yet to visit the country.

The president said that whether or not he traveled there would depend on “a lot of things relating to whether or not it causes more difficulty for the Ukrainians, whether it distracts from what’s going on.”

Last week Ukrainian forces were forced to retreat from the key eastern city of Sievierodonetsk after weeks of bombardment and battles with invading Russian forces, a local official said Friday, leaving the city of Lysychansk as the only barrier between Russia taking full control of half of Ukraine’s industrial heartland.

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