Ukraine’s allies are in a race against time to produce enough ammunition, fuel, and spare parts to thwart an offensive by Russian forces that NATO’s chief says is already under way.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has again urged Ukraine’s Western allies to ramp up their military support. Asked Monday when he expects Russia’s so-called spring offensive to begin, Stoltenberg said “the reality is that we have seen the start already”.
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“For me, this just highlights the importance of timing. It’s urgent to provide Ukraine with more weapons,” he told reporters in Brussels.
Stoltenberg said NATO sees “no sign whatsoever that [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin is preparing for peace”, and arming Ukraine more quickly could save lives by bringing a quicker end to the conflict.
“It is clear that we are in a race of logistics. Key capabilities like ammunition, fuel, and spare parts must reach Ukraine before Russia can seize the initiative on the battlefield. Speed will save lives,” he said.
NATO members and Ukraine’s other allies are meeting at the alliance’s headquarters on Tuesday to drum up more weapons and ammunition for the war-torn country.
On Wednesday they will discuss NATO’s defences on its eastern flank, close to Russia. Moves to beef up military budgets are also on the agenda.
The city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine came under heavy Russian artillery fire on Monday as Ukrainian forces there braced for possible ground attacks.
Positions in Bakhmut have been fortified and only people with a military role were being allowed in, a deputy battalion commander said. Any civilians who still wanted to leave the city would have to brave the incoming fire.
Bakhmut, in the Donetsk region, is a major objective for Putin and months of Russian shelling have already left much of it in ruins.
“The city, the city’s suburbs, the entire perimeter, and essentially the entire Bakhmut direction and Kostyantynivka are under crazy, chaotic shelling,” said Volodymyr Nazarenko, deputy commander of Ukraine’s Soboda battalion.
“Every road is being shelled by artillery in a chaotic way.”
Nazarenko said that although no fighting was taking place in the city centre right now, the defenders were prepared to meet any assault. “The city is a fortress, every position and every street there, almost every building, is a fortress,” he said.
The capture of Bakhmut would give Putin a new foothold in the Donetsk region and a rare victory after several months of setbacks. The Russian assault has been spearheaded by mercenaries of the Wagner Group, who have made small but steady gains.
Donetsk and Luhansk regions make up the Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial heartland. Russia partially occupies it and wants to win full control.
”We are waiting for them to start massive round-the-clock attacks,” said Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai.
Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said the main items on the agenda of the talks at NATO headquarters will be air defences, forming a tank coalition, training of troops and logistical support.
As the new Russian offensive intensifies, Ukraine says it needs fighter jets and long-range missiles to counter this and to recapture lost territory.