Nato chief says it is inevitable Ukraine will join defence alliance

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Jens Stoltenberg says there is no doubt that Ukraine will join Nato as western leaders gather in Kyiv to pledge support and mark the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion

The Nato chief said on Saturday that Russian President Vladimir Putin “started this war because he wanted to close Nato’s door . . . but he has achieved the exact opposite: Ukraine is now closer to Nato than ever before”.

He said Nato was helping Kyiv to make its forces “more and more interoperable” with the defence alliance and would open a joint training and analysis centre in Poland. 

“Ukraine will join Nato. It is not a question of if, but of when,” he insisted.

The anniversary comes as US funding for Ukraine’s war effort falters, creating a shortage of arms and ammunition. With American aid in doubt, European support has grown increasingly important.

A $60bn aid bill has been held up in Congress by a dispute between Democrats and Republicans over illegal immigration and security on the Mexican border.

On Friday, Biden called on Republicans to approve the bill “before it’s too late” for Ukraine.

Biden visited Kyiv last year, just before the first anniversary, but did not travel to Ukraine this year or send a representative.

In a ceremony on the tarmac of Hostomel airport, where in 2022 Ukrainian troops turned back Russian forces who were advancing on the capital, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen lauded Kyiv’s resistance, saying: “You saved your country, you saved Europe.”

Writing on X earlier on Saturday, Von der Leyen said the EU would back Ukraine financially, economically, militarily and morally “until the country is finally free.”

The EU Commission president made the remarks as members of the G7 prepared to hold talks. Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni — who assumed the G7 presidency in January — and Justin Trudeau of Canada will join Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in person on Saturday afternoon while other G7 leaders will attend the meeting virtually.

Nato representatives as well as US senators and European and UK parliamentarians, as well as former British prime minister Boris Johnson, have also travelled to Kyiv.

Speaking at Hostomel alongside western leaders, Zelenskyy said that the war must end on Ukraine’s terms to ensure its independence. “Any normal person wants the war to end,” he said. “But none of us will allow our country to end.”

Ahead of the G7 meeting, Oleksandr Syrsky, Ukraine’s top general, thanked Kyiv’s partners for their support, adding on Telegram: “Every projectile, every tank, every armoured vehicle is, first of all, saving the life of a Ukrainian soldier.” Countries such as Japan, Sweden, Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands have announced billions of dollars worth of military aid in the run-up to the anniversary of the invasion.

But according to military experts, those commitments are insufficient to plug the hole created by Congress’s inability to pass the $60bn aid package.

The US has been the biggest source of military aid for Ukraine, sending $46bn since the beginning of the invasion, as well as a further $28bn in other assistance.

The EU’s four-year financial package of €50bn will struggle to cover Ukraine’s economic needs. The country’s budget deficit for 2024 alone is about $40bn.

Last week, Biden blamed a lack of US support for Ukraine’s retreat from the eastern Donetsk town of Avdiivka.

Zelenskyy recently criticised western allies for what he called an “artificial deficit of weapons”. The EU has delivered less than half of the artillery shells it had promised by spring 2024.


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