(CN) — In the wake of Russia's massive bombing of Ukrainian cities and infrastructure on Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden pledged to send Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy advanced air defense systems while American officials sought to exert global pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin at a United Nations General Assembly meeting.
The war in Ukraine is quickly escalating following an alleged truck bomb attack by Ukrainian agents that seriously damaged the Kerch Strait Bridge connecting Crimea with Russia. At 12 miles in length, it is the longest bridge in Europe and a feat of engineering and fused with political symbolism for Putin.
The bridge was completed in 2018 with the Kremlin declaring it a major show of Russian commitment to Crimea, a peninsula that Putin annexed in 2014 following a Western-backed insurrection that toppled the government of pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Today's total war in Ukraine has its roots in those 2014 events which sparked clashes between pro-Western and pro-Russian factions of Ukrainian society and an armed conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Yanukovych was elected fairly, but he caused widespread anger in parts of Ukraine for scrapping a deal to bring the country closer to the European Union. He was driven from office following violent protests. After a vehemently pro-Western and pro-NATO government was installed in Kyiv, Putin ordered his troops to seize control of Crimea, a peninsula with a majority of Russian speakers and ethnic Russians. Critically, the peninsula is also home to Russia's Black Sea Fleet.
The hit on the Kerch Bridge hurts Russia's war efforts because the bridge serves as a main artery for military supplies. The Kremlin has vowed to repair the heavy damage caused by a gigantic explosion.
Putin declared the attack an “act of terrorism” and on Monday launched a furious barrage of rockets and war drones at Ukrainian cities, command centers and power plants. Russian rockets continued to be fired Tuesday on Ukrainian targets, including power substations in western Ukraine.
Monday's massive assault – the worst Russian aerial bombing yet in the war – caused power to be knocked out in many parts of Ukraine. Also hit were administrative parts in the city center of Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. At least 14 people were killed and more than 80 wounded, according to Ukrainian officials.
In response, Biden said the United States will furnish Zelenskyy's military with advanced air defense systems to give Ukraine greater capacity to shoot down future rocket attacks. The U.S. has already sent Ukraine $16.8 billion in aid and provided crucial intelligence, advice and training to Ukrainian forces, though the White House and NATO have refused to send troops to Ukraine to avoid a direct conflict with Russia. Russian officials, though, have already declared the war over Ukraine a NATO-Russia conflict.
On Tuesday, Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said the delivery of air defense systems to Ukraine would not change Russia's military goals and just prolong combat.
Germany, meanwhile, sent its Iris-T air defense systems to Kyiv on Tuesday, another step towards Berlin's growing involvement in a war that seems to have become an existential conflict for all sides involved.
European and American leaders increasingly talk about how they cannot allow Putin to be victorious in Ukraine because that would open the door to even more aggression by Russia and other powers eyeing territorial conquests.
In New York City, the U.S. is pushing to get the United Nations General Assembly to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The U.N. debate is set to become a moment of clarity because it will show the willingness by non-Western states, such as China and India, to take sides in a conflict with global ramifications.