NATO pledges to increase aid to Ukraine but Zelenskyy warns it is insufficient – POLITICO

NATO leaders on Thursday pledged to step up aid to Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused them of cowering under the threat of a confrontation with Vladimir Putin and naivety in thinking that Russia’s aggression would not continue against their own country.

“We are determined to do everything we can to support Ukraine,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said after an alliance leaders’ summit in Brussels, which Zelenskyy attended. is addressed by video link. But in response to questions about Zelenskyy’s specific requests for help — including closing Ukrainian airspace to Russian military aircraft and donating tanks, fighter jets and other weapons — Stoltenberg clarified that “all we can” did not include much of what the Ukrainian president had asked for.

Asked about Zelenskyy’s speech in which the Ukrainian president called on Allied leaders to supply Ukraine with only ‘one percent’ of NATO’s tanks and planes – and also complained about not receiving clear answers – Stoltenberg quickly retreated to vague generalities.

“We listened carefully,” Stoltenberg said. “NATO allies are providing strong support to Ukraine. And we also provide lethal weapons, advanced systems, as well as systems that help them shoot down aircraft and attack battle tanks with anti-tank weapons, and many other types of systems, including drones. I won’t go into detail on the exact type of systems we deploy.

He added: “I can say that the allies are doing what they can to support Ukraine with weapons so that Ukraine can defend itself. At the same time, we have a responsibility to prevent this conflict from becoming a full-fledged war in Europe, involving not only Ukraine and Russia, but also NATO allies and Russia. It will be more dangerous and more devastating.

Zelenskyy expressed his gratitude for the help Ukraine has received so far, but he was not sparing in his criticism of the alliance as a whole. And after a month of Ukrainian forces resisting an invasion by one of the most powerful armed forces in the world, Zelenskyy said he never wanted to hear Western leaders suggesting that Ukraine’s military was not compliant. to NATO standards.

“Yes, we are getting help from individual alliance members; I am very grateful,” he said. “But what about the alliance?

“I just want you to know what we think about it,” he continued. “And I sincerely wish… that we were wrong in our assessments and in our doubts. I sincerely wish that you have a very strong alliance. Because if we are wrong, the world is safe. But if we are at least one percent right, I ask you to reconsider your attitude. Your own estimates. And really take care of security, security in Europe and, therefore, in the world.

Zelenskyy said that the Ukrainians never imagined that NATO “could be afraid of Russia’s actions” and also issued a warning to the alliance: “I’m sure you already understand that Russia has no does not intend to stop in Ukraine. Does not intend and will not. He wants to go further.

He said Putin would then attack their own territories and said their refusal to intervene directly to stop Russia had raised doubts about the alliance’s collective defense clause, known as Article 5.

He predicted that Russia would act against “the eastern members of NATO, the Baltic states, Poland – that’s for sure”.

“Will NATO then stop thinking about it, worrying about Russia’s reaction? Who can be sure? And are you convinced that Article 5 can work? ” He asked.

Stoltenberg stays

In a sign of Allied leaders’ instability in the face of a return to full-scale war in Europe, they unanimously backed a proposal by US President Joe Biden to extend Stoltenberg’s term as NATO’s top civilian official, opting for a steady hand rather than conducting a search. for a successor.

Stoltenberg, former Prime Minister of Norway, was due to end his term on September 30 and had agreed to take over as head of his country’s central bank. The Allies were to choose his successor at the end of June.

But while Stoltenberg has received widespread praise for maintaining unity within the alliance, including during the tumultuous years when Donald Trump was President of the United States, his assertion that NATO would not risk conflict direct contact with Russia has brought little comfort to Ukraine, where millions have been displaced from their homes, cities have been reduced to rubble and more than 1,000 civilians have already been killed.

In their official statement, the Allied leaders issued a scathing rebuke to Putin and his aggression.

“We call on President Putin to immediately stop this war and withdraw military forces from Ukraine, and call on Belarus to end its complicity,” they said, adding: “Russia’s attack on Ukraine threatens global security Its attack on international norms makes the world less secure President Putin’s escalating rhetoric is irresponsible and destabilizing.

They also issued a somber warning of Russia’s potential use of unconventional weapons. Stoltenberg said NATO’s top military commander had activated the alliance’s “chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense elements”.

A senior Western official said the allies were particularly concerned about repeated claims by Russia that the West would use banned weapons of mass destruction.

“Putin tends to do what he says,” the senior official said. “And also Putin tends to do what he says others are about to do.” The official said “elements of defense” meant preparing for a potential attack.

In his address to the leaders, Zelenskyy complained that he never received a clear response to his call for NATO to impose a no-fly zone, although he said he was open to any strategy that would shut down the sky and stop the aerial bombardments of Russia.

“On February 24, I made a perfectly clear and logical request to you to help close our skies – in any format,” he said. “Protect our people from Russian bombs and missiles. We haven’t heard a clear answer.

Zelenskky added: “You see the consequences today – how many people were killed, how many peaceful towns were destroyed.”

Some NATO diplomats and officials said Zelenskyy’s demand was unrealistic and unrealistic because a no-fly zone would force NATO to shoot down Russian planes, dragging the alliance into war, and that ultimately account, simply immobilizing the Russian air force would not help much because a lot of the rockets and missiles are launched at Ukraine from Russia or Belarus.

1 percent advocacy

In a message that seemed to stray from NATO’s well-known goal of spending 2% of its GDP on defence, Zelenskyy said his country was asking for half of that, or 1% of NATO’s military assets. , such as tanks and planes.

“You can give us one percent of all your planes,” he said. “One percent of all your tanks. One percent! We can’t just buy it. Such a supply depends directly only on NATO decisions, on political decisions. He said: “When it is finally available, it will give us, and you too, 100% security.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, however, cited practical difficulties in fending off Zelenskyy’s demands, while insisting that Western allies were working to “increase lethal aid” to Ukraine in quality and in quantity.

“Logistically, it looks very difficult, both with armor and with jets,” he said. “We are very aware of what he is asking. The gear we think is most valuable at the moment are missiles, which they can use to defend themselves.

NATO leaders reaffirmed their commitment to exert strong economic and political pressure on Russia and to support Ukraine.

They also formalized the creation of four multinational battlegroups — in Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Slovakia — to defend NATO’s eastern flank.

And while decisions on the alliance’s longer-term plans are expected to be decided at a summit in June, leaders agreed to accelerate a strategic transformation of the alliance to ‘significantly strengthen’ its deterrence posture. and long-term defense and accelerate efforts to stimulate military investment.

Zelenskyy, however, pleaded with them to act now. “NATO has yet to show what the alliance can do to save people – to show that it really is the most powerful defense union in the world,” he said. . “And the world waits.”

Christopher Cadelago and Cristina Gallardo contributed reporting.


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