BUCHAREST: NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday said the alliance would not pull back in its support for Ukraine, calling on partners to pledge more winter aid for Kyiv as it braced itself for more cold and darkness due to Russian attacks on infrastructure.
NATO foreign ministers meeting in Bucharest are focusing on ramping up military assistance for Ukraine such as air defense systems and ammunition, even as diplomats acknowledge supply and capacity issues, but also discuss non-lethal aid as well.
Part of this non-lethal aid — goods such as fuel, medical supplies, winter equipment and drone jammers — has been delivered through a NATO assistance package that allies can contribute to and which Stoltenberg aims to increase.
“Nato will continue to stand for Ukraine as long as it takes. We will not back down,” Stoltenberg said in a speech in Bucharest.
“The main focus is supporting Ukraine and ensuring President (Vladimir Putin) doesn’t win,” he said, adding that the only way to get the right terms for a negotiation to begin would be for Ukraine to advance on the battlefield.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned his fellow citizens of new Russian attacks this week that could be as bad as last week’s, the worst yet, which left millions of people with no heat, water or power.
Russia acknowledges attacking Ukrainian infrastructure. It denies its intent is to hurt civilians.
“It is going to be a terrible winter for Ukraine, so we are working to strengthen our support for it to be resilient,” a senior European diplomat said.
Germany, which holds the G7 presidency, also scheduled a meeting of the Group of Seven rich nations with some partners on the sidelines of the NATO talks as it presses for ways to speed up reconstructing Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.
Washington had been working with US utilities and hardware providers and with European nations to locate equipment that can help restore high-voltage transmission stations damaged by Russian missile strikes, senior State Department official told reporters.
The official did not specify what form the assistance would take or how much it would be worth.
France and Germany have said they are sending more than 100 power generators each to help stabilize the electricity grid.
“The reason Russia is continuing these war crimes is because it is losing ground,” a French official said, referring to the attacks on civilian infrastructure.
On the military side, NATO keeps pushing weapons manufacturers to accelerate production but a second diplomat cautioned there were increasing problems with supply capacity.
“We are doing the maximum we can on deliveries, but there is a real problem. The Ukrainians know it. Even the US weapons industry despite its strength is having issues,” the diplomat said.
Ministers will also discuss Ukraine’s application for NATO membership. But they are likely to only confirm the alliance’s open-door policy while NATO membership still appears far away.
In 2008, a NATO summit at the same Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest, built under dictator Nicolae Ceausescu who was toppled in 1989, agreed that Ukraine would eventually become a member of the alliance.
However, leaders have stopped short of taking any concrete steps such as giving Ukraine a membership action plan that would lay out a timetable for bringing it closer to NATO.
Georgia, Moldova and Bosnia will also attend the meeting on Wednesday as the alliance looks to strengthen ties with the countries amid fears Russia is seeking to destabilize states beyond Ukraine.
NATO ministers will also talk about how to strengthen the resilience of society, days after Stoltenberg warned Western nations must be careful not to create new dependence on China as they wean themselves off Russian energy supplies.