Ukraine's allies pledge over 1 billion euros in immediate winter aid

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By John Irish and Michel Rose

PARIS (Reuters) - Some 70 countries and institutions worldwide pledged more than 1 billion euros ($1.05 billion) in immediate aid to help Ukraine get through a harsh winter as Russian forces batter its energy grid and other critical civilian infrastructure.

France hosted the global meeting to discuss what could be offered between now and March to maintain water, food, energy, health and transport during Ukraine's typically frigid winter.

Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said over 1 billion euros had been pledged with some 415 million devoted to Ukraine's energy sector, hammered by Russian air strikes, adding that the participation of non-Western countries such as Qatar and Cambodia showed a widening of support for Ukraine.

The rest of the funds will be channelled to Ukraine's health, food, water and transport sectors, with almost 500 million euros still to be allocated, she said.

"This is a powerful signal to show the civilised world is supporting Ukraine," Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal told reporters in Paris. "We are grateful to the countries that remain by our side when we are suffering the aggression by Russia on our territory and our civilian infrastructure."

The conference was also an opportunity for French President Emmanuel Macron to display solidarity with Ukraine. He has been criticised by some European allies and Kyiv itself over the level of French military support and his comments about needing to maintain dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Baltic states and other European nations upset over Macron's remarks regarding possible security guarantees for Russia formally lodged their disapproval and explained their position to France on Monday, diplomats told Reuters.

Macron's mixed messages on Ukraine have caused exasperation that has become increasingly public in some east European capitals. The French presidency has said his comments, notably on providing security guarantees for Russia, have been taken out of context and Paris has never wavered in its support for Kyiv.

"Since Ukraine has got back on top on the ground, Russia, whose military weaknesses have been exposed, has adopted a cynical strategy that targets civilian infrastructure to bring Ukraine to its knees," Macron said in his opening speech, backing President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's 10-point peace proposal.

"For each of your country's victories on the ground, Russia's cowardly response is to bomb power, gas or water infrastructure necessary for the people's survival this winter," Macron said.

He said France would provide Ukraine 63 electric generators on top of the 100 delivered in November. With an additional 48.5 million euros, French aid would reach 200 million euros this year, according Macron.

Addressing the meeting by videolink, Zelenskiy said Kyiv needed at least 800 million euros of emergency aid to tackle what he said was Russia's "energy terrorism" and help Ukrainians get through the winter.

"It's a lot but the price is less than the cost of (power) blackouts," Zelenskiy said.

The international meeting also established an online mechanism so that Ukraine can submit its urgent needs and donor countries can respond promptly.

A second meeting between France, Ukraine and some 500 French companies will look into what can be invested to assist Kyiv in the short to longer term.

($1 = 0.9487 euros)

(Writing by John Irish and Michel Rose)