G7 pledges winter help for Ukraine

Top diplomats from the G7 on Thursday vowed to help see Ukraine through the coming winter as they held talks in Germany, with Kyiv's fight against Russia topping the agenda.

"Winter is coming and Russia has been systematically destroying civilian infrastructure in Ukraine," French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said after meeting  G7 counterparts in the city of Muenster.

"Needless to say, we believe that this is a humanitarian crisis," she said, insisting that Western allies would "strengthen our coordination and... help to Ukraine to defend itself and help its population".

The foreign ministers held a session on Ukraine on Thursday afternoon to kick off the two-day meeting in Muenster, held under Germany's G7 presidency.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who is also attending, said Russian President Vladimir Putin was trying to "put (Ukraine) in the darkness in the winter time".

"Putin is waiting for the general winter to come and support the Russian army," he said.

Opening the gathering, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock earlier vowed the allies would not allow Russia to inflict "starvation" on Ukrainians.

- Aid package -

"We will not allow the brutality of this war to lead to masses of elderly people, children, young people and families dying in the coming winter months," Baerbock said.

The allies will provide generators, heaters, container housing, tents, beds and blankets among items that will be part of a "winter aid package", she said.

"Russia has chosen a new method of warfare by trying to let people starve, die of thirst and freeze to death," Baerbock added.

"This is exactly what we, as G7 partners, will try to prevent with everything we have, just as we will try to prevent the other perfidious methods of Russian warfare."

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba took part remotely in the Thursday afternoon talks.

The G7 meeting comes as Germany prepares to hand over the presidency of the group to Japan, facing multiple crises from Ukraine to North Korea.

Baerbock said the G7 condemned "in the strongest terms" the latest salvo of missiles fired by North Korea and described the drills as a "breach of international law".

- China controversy -

Relations with China were due to be discussed at a working dinner on Thursday, as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz jetted off for a controversial visit to Beijing.

The G7 is ready to recognise China as a "competitor" and "rival", Baerbock said.

"Japan... repeatedly points out how important it is that we recognise that China has changed in recent years," she said.

Scholz has insisted he will "not ignore controversies" during his trip.

Asked about the visit, Colonna said French President Emmanuel Macron "was also invited to China and I have no doubt that he will go there in a few weeks or months".

The G7 foreign ministers are also expected to discuss Iran, which has been rocked by enduring protests over the death of young Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini.

Speaking at a forum in Muenster on democracy in the digital age on Thursday, Baerbock said the international community was "running out of time" to coordinate its response to the protests.

"It's not only women. The diversity of the Iran society is saying, 'This is enough and we want to live in freedom like many other countries'," she said in English.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the same forum  Western allies were trying to "make sure that Iranians have the ability to communicate with each other and with the outside world".

"Technology is at the heart of that, making sure that there are no barriers to the extent we have anything to say about it," he said.