Germany's Scholz promises more air defence help to Ukraine

French President Macron, German Chancellor Scholz, Italian PM Draghi and Romanian President Iohannis visit Kyiv

LEIPZIG, Germany (Reuters) -Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Germany's priority in its aid to Ukraine should be to help it defend itself from Russian air raids on its cities and to help it rebuild its infrastructure.

He added in an interview with RND newspapers on Friday that Europe should prepare to receive more refugees from Ukraine, which has been battling a Russian invasion since Feb. 24.

"Russia is bombing Ukraine's energy infrastructure. Russia wants to make sure people in Ukraine can't survive the winter cold," he said in an on-stage interview. "We are currently discussing with many German companies what they can do to counter this destruction."

The air defence systems Germany had sent to Ukraine had played a key role in minimising the destruction so far, but Germany would work with partners to send more, he added.

Earlier, Scholz agreed in a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that Germany would continue to send air defence systems.

Scholz told the audience that he was convinced that, regardless of the flurry of diplomacy with which Western leaders had tried to avert war in the run-up to Russia's invasion, President Vladimir Putin had long been set on his course.

"I'm convinced Putin decided on this war two years ago," he said. "We saw the troop build-up... We hoped it was just threatening gestures, but it wasn't: it was a war long in the planning."

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke in Leipzig, writing by Thomas Escritt; editing by Matthias Williams and Sandra Maler)