NATO pledges to step up aid to Ukraine but Zelenskyy warns it’s falling short – POLITICO

NATO leaders vowed on Thursday to step up aid to Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused them of ducking the looming confrontation with Vladimir Putin and naively believing that Russia’s aggression against their own countries will not be continued.

“We are determined to do everything in our power to support Ukraine,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said after a summit of the alliance’s leaders in Brussels, at which Zelenskyy spoke via video link. But in response to questions about Zelenskyy’s specific calls for help — including the blocking of Ukrainian airspace to Russian military planes and donations of tanks, fighter jets and other weapons — Stoltenberg made it clear that “everything we can” didn’t involve much of what the Der Ukrainian President had asked for it.

Asked about Zelenskyy’s speech, in which the Ukrainian president appealed to allied leaders to supply Ukraine with only “one percent” of NATO’s tanks and planes — and complained that he had not received clear answers — dragged on Stoltenberg quickly resorted to vague generalities.

“We listened carefully,” said Stoltenberg. “NATO allies are providing significant support to Ukraine. And we also offer deadly weapons, advanced systems and also systems that help them shoot down planes and attack main battle tanks with anti-tank weapons and many other types of systems including drones. I won’t go into the details of the exact type of systems we use.”

He added: “I can say that allies are doing what they can to support Ukraine with arms so that Ukraine can defend itself. At the same time, we have a responsibility to prevent this conflict from turning into a full-blown war in Europe, involving not only Ukraine and Russia, but also NATO allies and Russia. This is going to be more dangerous and devastating.”

Selenskyj thanked Ukraine for the previous help, but ruthlessly criticized the alliance as a whole. And after Ukraine’s armed forces held out for a month against an invasion by one of the world’s most powerful armed forces, Zelenskyy said he never wanted to hear Western leaders claim Ukraine’s military did not meet NATO standards.

“Yes, we get help from individual members of the alliance; I’m very grateful,” he said. “But what about the Alliance?”

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

Zelenskyy said Ukrainians never thought that NATO “could be afraid of Russia’s actions” and also warned the alliance: “I’m sure you already understand that Russia does not intend to stop in Ukraine. Has no intention and will not. It wants to go further.”

He said Putin would next attack their own territories and said their refusal to intervene directly to stop Russia cast doubt on the alliance’s collective defense clause, known as Article 5.

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

“Will NATO then stop thinking and worrying about how Russia will react? Who can be sure? And do you have confidence that Article 5 can work?” he asked.

Stoltenberg stays

In a sign of how unnerved Allied leaders are at the return of full-scale war to Europe, they unanimously backed a proposal by US President Joe Biden to extend Stoltenberg’s tenure as NATO’s top civilian representative, opting for a steady hand , instead of performing a search for a successor.

Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister, was due to end his term on September 30 and has agreed to become head of his country’s central bank. The allies should select his successor by the end of June.

But while Stoltenberg received widespread praise for maintaining unity within the Alliance, even during the turbulent years when Donald Trump was US President, his assertion that NATO would not risk direct conflict with Russia offered little consolation in Ukraine Millions have had their homes displaced, cities are reduced to rubble and more than 1,000 civilians have already been killed.

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

“We call on President Putin to end this war immediately and withdraw 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 safe. President Putin’s escalating rhetoric is irresponsible and destabilizing.”

They also somberly warned of the possible use of unconventional weapons by Russia. Stoltenberg said NATO’s supreme military commander had activated the alliance’s “chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense elements.”

A senior Western official said allies were particularly concerned about Russia’s repeated claims 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 other people will do.” The official said the “defense elements” meant preparing for a possible attack.

In his address to the leadership, Zelenskyy lamented that he had never received a clear answer to his plea for NATO to introduce a no-fly zone, although he said he was open to any strategy that would close airspace and stop Russia’s airstrikes.

“On February 24, I approached you with a perfectly clear, logical request 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.”

Selenskky added: “You see the consequences today – how many people have been killed, how many peaceful cities have been destroyed.”

Some NATO diplomats and officials said Zelenskyy’s proposal was impractical and unrealistic, since a no-fly zone would require NATO to shoot down Russian planes and drag the alliance into the war, and that it wouldn’t end up helping the Russian air force much grounded because many of the rockets and missiles are fired at Ukraine by Russia or Belarus.

1 percent plea

In a message that seemed to align with NATO’s well-known goal that allies spend 2 percent of GDP on defense, Zelenskyy said his country demands half of that — 1 percent of NATO’s hard military assets, like 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 the decisions of NATO, on political decisions.” He said: “When it is finally available, it gives us and you also 100 percent security.”

However, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson cited practical difficulties in rejecting Zelenskyy’s demands, while insisting that Western allies are working to increase both the quality and quantity of “deadly aid” to Ukraine.

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

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

They also formalized the establishment 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 due to be made at a summit in June, leaders agreed to accelerate a strategic transformation of the Alliance to “significantly strengthen” its long-term deterrence and defense posture and efforts to speed up military investment gain.

Zelenskyy, however, begged her to act now. “NATO has yet to show what the Alliance can do to save people – to show that this is truly the most powerful defense union in the world,” he said. “And the world is waiting.”

Christopher Cadelago and Cristina Gallardo contributed coverage. NATO pledges to step up aid to Ukraine but Zelenskyy warns it's falling short - POLITICO

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