July 24. 2024. 8:00

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NATO Chief urges greater support for Ukraine as delays and disagreements continue


NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg went into the meeting of EU defence ministers clearly stating that the most urgent action required to aid Ukraine was to strengthen the country’s air defences. Afterwards, EU High Representative Josep Borrell, following what he called a “lively debate”, reported that “some member states” would increase their contribution to air defence. But the European Union also remains divided over the key issues of whether to train Ukrainian forces on Ukrainian soil and if Ukraine can use the weapons it has been given to attack targets in Russia, writes Political Editor Nick Powell.

Jens Stoltenberg was able to point to how NATO Allies, many of them also EU members, are stepping up the delivery of ammunition, air defence systems, and in particular the advanced Patriot system. “So, we have seen some progress”, he said, but more progress and more air defence systems are urgently needed in Ukraine”.

He also called for NATO coordination of the provision of equipment and training, a financial pledge to Ukraine lasting several years “to ensure that we prevent gaps and delays as we have seen recently” and even more work with the armaments industry to ramp up production.

The Secretary-General argued that Ukraine should be freed from western restrictions on the use of weapons to attack legitimate targets on Russian soil. “We have to remember what this is. This is a war of aggression. Russia has attacked another country, invaded another country.

“And Ukraine has, according to international law, the right to self-defence, to defend themselves”, he stated. “And the right of self-defence includes also striking targets outside Ukraine, legitimate military targets inside Russia. And this is in particular relevant now. Because the most heavy fighting is now taking place in the Kharkiv region, close to the Ukrainian Russian border. And part of the border is actually the front line.


“Therefore, of course it will be very hard and difficult for the Ukrainians to defend themselves if they cannot hit military targets just on the other side of the border. These may be missile launchers. It may be artillery. It may be airfields which are used to attack Ukraine. And if Ukraine cannot hit those military targets, it will be much harder for them to defend themselves.

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“These are national decisions. It’s not that NATO decisions on restrictions. Some Allies have not imposed restrictions on the weapons they have delivered. Others have. I believe the time now has come to consider those restrictions, not least in light of the development in the war, which now is actually taking place along the border. And that makes it even harder for them to defend themselves”.


Despite President Putin’s claims to the contrary, he asserted that such action does not make NATO Allies party to the conflict. “We have the right to provide support to Ukraine, to help them uphold the right for self-defence”.

It seems the General Secretary’s powers of persuasion had only limited success in the room, although afterwards the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, emphasised how far the mood had shifted since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. “Before the war in Ukraine… , I remember that the word “force” was not being used. Rapid Deployment Force? No, no, no – let’s talk about Rapid Deployment Capacity”, he said, recalling a reluctance even to use military terms.

He said there had been a “lively debate” with Jens Stoltenberg, though he declined to summarise everything that had been discussed. The High Representative did confirm that they had reviewed commitments on air defence systems and interceptors: “Germany informed about their air defence initiative. Some Member States increased their contribution to the air defence”.

There had also been a detailed analysis of ammunition supply, which he described as one of the key issues to stop Russian advances. But seven legal acts needed to be approved to mobilise €6.6 billion under the Ukrainian Assistance Fund. “This has not been possible [for] quite a long time because there is not [an] agreement for the consensus needed.

“You know that we need unanimity – unanimity [has] not [been] there for months. I was complaining yesterday about that at the Foreign Affairs Council meeting. We did the same thing today.

“This is more than a theoretical discussion. Every delay of military support has real consequences, and these consequences are measured in human lives, in infrastructure damaged, towns destroyed, or more battlefield setbacks for Ukraine. That is why it is so important”.

Josep Borrell said that when it came to the question of allowing the weapons to be used against targets in Russia, “it is clear that this is a legitimate action under international law, when it is being used in a proportionate manner. But it is also clear that it is a decision for each individual Member State to take, and to take their responsibility in doing that or not.

“Some Member States were against it, and they have changed their mind. Today, they are accepting to lift these limitations on the arms that they supply to Ukraine. But it is a Member State capacity. No one can force a Member State to lift this limitation on the arms they are supplying to Ukraine”.

He said that there is a growing consensus on the need to increase the level of ambition of our training capacity and that there had been a debate about doing part of the training in Ukraine: “There has been a debate but there is not a clear common European position on that”.

Asked about the possibility of EU countries putting ‘boots on the ground’ in Ukraine, albeit only worn by soldiers training their Ukrainian counterparts, Josep Borrell said that for the time being there is no consensus. “Some Member States believe that the advantage of training people on the scenario of war, avoiding people going back and forth, has advantages.

“Certainly, the ecosystem will be better adapted to the real circumstances of the war. Others believe that at the end it is sending trainers, and the trainers are military. One way or another, it would not be to send fighting troops, but military agents in the Ukrainian territory with the risk that certainly implies”.

When a reporter named Hungary as the country blocking the money to finance military aid to Ukraine, he would only confirm that all Member States were frustrated by the situation. “We are not doing things as quickly as necessary, because we are not able to build the necessary unanimity. The frustration is not mine; the frustration belongs to all Member States … Let’s also not underestimate what we have done, which is a lot, because we have things left to do”.

Meanwhile, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin was again warning against any escalation of western involvement in the Ukraine War. “Constant escalation can lead to serious consequences”, he told reporters in Tashkent.

“If these serious consequences occur in Europe, how will the United States behave, bearing in mind our parity in the field of strategic weapons? It’s hard to say — do they want a global conflict?"

Putin argued that if the West allowed long-range Ukrainian attacks on targets in Russia, that would involve direct involvement through the use of western satellites and intelligence, as well as military assistance. He described the possibility of France sending troops to Ukraine, which President Macron has refused to rule out, as a step towards a global conflict.

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