Stoltenberg vows Nato will stand with Ukraine for ‘as long as it takes’

Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg vowed that the US-led alliance would stand with Kyiv “for as long as it takes” in its defence against Russian aggression, during his first trip to Ukraine since the war began 14 months ago.

Stoltenberg’s visit comes at a crucial time in the conflict as Kyiv pleads for more western weaponry to push on with a spring counter-offensive. Ukraine has also stepped up its demands for Nato to offer concrete security guarantees and a tangible pathway to join the alliance, despite reluctance from Washington to do so.

Nato has long stressed that it is not a party to the war, in contrast to Russian president Vladimir Putin’s claims that the conflict is part of a wider confrontation between Moscow and the west.

But on Thursday, speaking alongside Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv, Stoltenberg said the alliance “stand[s] by you today, in your heroic fight against the Russian invaders and in defence of your country”.

“Nato stands with you today, tomorrow and for as long as it takes,” he added.

The visit comes a day before Stoltenberg attends a meeting of Ukraine’s western allies in Germany to co-ordinate military support for Kyiv. The Nato chief is expected to urge allies to accelerate shipments of weapons.

“This visit of Jens Stoltenberg is the first since the full-scale war — we interpret it as a sign that the alliance is ready to start a new chapter in relations with Ukraine — a chapter of ambitious decisions,” Zelenskyy said during their joint press conference.

“Foot-dragging of appropriate decisions is time lost for peace and the lives of our soldiers, who have not yet received the vitally necessary number of defence tools,” he added.

Stoltenberg’s visit was in part to shore up Zelenskyy’s commitment to attend the Nato leaders’ summit in July. The Ukrainian president has suggested he would only attend if he was offered concrete commitments of progress towards Ukraine’s future membership.

At a meeting of Nato foreign ministers last month, officials from countries such as the Baltic nations, Poland and the UK pressed allies to step up their support for Kyiv to join the alliance, and called on Nato as an organisation to offer Kyiv a tangible pathway to that goal.

But Stoltenberg must also balance the views of countries such as the US and Germany, which are far less enthusiastic about Ukraine’s membership in the short term and believe talk of accession is distracting from the core priority of helping to repel Russia’s invasion.

“I also expect that Nato allies, at the Vilnius summit with the presence of President Zelenskyy, will agree to further strengthen Nato’s package for Ukraine with even more support,” Stoltenberg said on Thursday.

“Then, of course, I also recognise that President Zelenskyy will raise the issue of membership, of security guarantees, and this will be high on the agenda of the meeting.”

Stoltenberg also said he expected “Nato allies and partners will make new announcements of concrete military support to Ukraine” at the Ramstein meeting on Friday, without providing specific details

The Nato chief paid respects to fallen Ukrainian soldiers at a war memorial in downtown Kyiv during his trip, which was not pre-announced for security reasons.

Asked about the visit, Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesperson, told reporters that stopping Ukraine from joining Nato was “unconditionally” one of the goals of Russia’s invasion. “Otherwise there would be a serious, substantial threat to our country and its security,” Peskov added.

Separately on Thursday, Ukraine’s defence minister Oleksiy Reznikov thanked Nato countries for recently supplied weaponry including MiG-29 fighter jets from Poland and Slovakia, as well as the first Patriot air defence systems.

But he also repeated demands for Nato-grade fighter jets and larger supplies of previously supplied air defence systems including shorter-range American-Norwegian Nasams and German Iris-Ts.

“Our top priority is to quickly build a multilevel air defence/anti-missile defence system,” Reznikov said in a post on Twitter.

“Patriots, Iris-T, Nasams and MiG-29 are the most recent, but not the final, steps towards this goal. Given the Kremlin’s barbaric tactics, we need Nato-style fighter jets,” he added.

Additional reporting by Max Seddon in Riga

Articles You May Like

How the AI boom catapulted Nvidia into tech’s big league
Northeast municipal volume took hardest fall of any region in 2023
Currys rejects higher takeover bid from Elliott
UK Speaker Hoyle faces calls to quit after Commons chaos
Just Eat Takeaway books €1.5bn impairment charge as acquisition costs bite