NATO’s secretary-general has reaffirmed the military alliance’s commitment to Ukraine and said it will one day become a member of the organisation.
“Russia does not have a veto” on countries joining the security alliance, he said in reference to the recent entry of North Macedonia and Montenegro.
The former Norwegian prime minister said Russian President Vladimir Putin will also “get Finland and Sweden as NATO members soon”, after they applied for membership in April over concerns Russia might target them next.
“We stand by that, too, on membership for Ukraine,” he added.
It came as NATO foreign ministers met in Bucharest in Romania to pledge to step up support for Ukraine and help repair its energy infrastructure as Russian strikes knock out power supplies and heating for millions.
“Russia’s aggression, including its persistent and unconscionable attacks on Ukrainian civilian and energy infrastructure, is depriving millions of Ukrainians of basic human services,” the foreign ministers said in a statement.
“We will continue and further step up political and practical support to Ukraine as it continues to defend its
sovereignty and territorial integrity… and will maintain our support for as long as necessary,” the statement added.
UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said Russia was targeting energy infrastructure to “freeze” Ukrainians into submission.
“We have seen Vladimir Putin attempting to weaponise energy supplies right from the very start of this conflict,” he said before the meeting.
Call for Patriot missiles and power transformers
Ukraine’s foreign minister called for NATO members to supply it with air defence systems and transformers.
“We need air defence, IRIS, Hawks, Patriots, and we need transformers,” Dmytro Kuleba said on the sidelines of the meeting, identifying various Western air defence systems.
“If we have transformers and generators, we can restore our energy needs. If we have air defence systems, we can protect from the next Russian missile strikes. In a nutshell: Patriots and transformers is what Ukraine needs the most.”
Focus on defeating Russia
Ukraine is unlikely to join NATO anytime soon, as Russia has annexed the Crimean Peninsula, and troops and pro-Moscow separatists hold parts of the south and east, meaning it is unclear what the country’s borders would look like.
Many of NATO’s 30 members believe the focus should now be on defeating Russia and Mr Stoltenberg warned any attempt to move ahead on membership could divide them.
“We are in the midst of a war and therefore we should do nothing that can undermine the unity of allies to provide military, humanitarian, financial support to Ukraine, because we must prevent President Putin from winning,” he said.
The two-day meeting in Romania, which shares NATO’s longest land border with Ukraine, will likely see NATO make new pledges of non-lethal support to Ukraine including fuel, generators, medical supplies, winter equipment and drone-jamming devices.
Individual nations are also likely to announce new shipments of military equipment to Ukraine, such as air defence systems and ammunition, but NATO as an organisation will not make such a commitment to avoid being dragged into a wider war with nuclear-armed Russia.