NATO agrees to work on long-term military support for Ukraine

Stoltenberg says Kyiv had ‘urgent needs’ and delays in providing support can have consequences on the battlefield.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg presents the alliance's annual report at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium [File: Yves Herman/Reuters]

NATO members have agreed to start planning military support for Ukraine on a long-term basis.

Urged by Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, a meeting of NATO foreign ministers agreed on Wednesday to move towards guaranteeing long-term weapon deliveries to Kyiv. However, proposals to establish a $107bn, five-year fund, met resistance from some quarters.

The alliance chief said allies “agreed to move forward with planning for a greater NATO role in coordinating security assistance and training”.

The move would give NATO a more direct role in coordinating the supply of arms, ammunition and equipment to Ukraine as it fights Russia’s invasion.

Speaking before the meeting Stoltenberg said Kyiv had “urgent needs,” adding that “any delay in providing support has consequences on the battlefield as we speak.”

“We must ensure reliable and predictable security assistance to Ukraine for the long haul so that we rely less on the voluntary contributions and more on NATO commitments, less on short-term offers and more on multiyear pledges,” he said.

“The reason why we do this is the situation on the battlefield in Ukraine. It is serious … We see how Russia is pushing, and we see how they try to win this war by just waiting us out.”

While the move would not see NATO directly providing weapons to Ukraine – as an organisation with 32 members that functions by consensus, the allies only agree to send non-lethal aid like demining equipment, fuel and medical supplies – it would mark a new phase in its involvement in the war.

The move is also seen as influenced by the possibility that Donald Trump could return to the US presidency following elections in November.

Under the plan, NATO would take over some coordination work from a US-led ad hoc coalition known as the Ramstein group.

Ministers, however, suggested that agreeing upon the 100-billion-euro ($107bn) fund could prove tricky.

Stoltenberg said the aim is for a decision on the proposals to be taken at a July summit of NATO member state leaders. NATO decisions require consensus among its 32 members.

Initial reactions from across the alliance signalled a decision may not be easy.

Hungary signalled scepticism about at least some elements of Stoltenberg’s proposal.

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto “announced Hungary’s opposition to increasing NATO’s coordination role in arms deliveries and training Ukrainian forces, refusing to participate in planning, operations, or funding. This stance was outlined during a news briefing at the NATO foreign ministers meeting” government spokesperson Zoltan Kovacs said on X.

Stoltenberg said he had spoken to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to address his concerns and that he was confident those issues would be addressed in the coming weeks.

“What we are discussing is not a NATO combat presence in Ukraine. We are discussing how we can coordinate and deliver support from outside Ukraine to Ukraine as NATO allies do,” Stoltenberg said.

“And now when we initiate planning, I’m certain we can also address the concerns that Hungary has raised and find a way where we can have consensus.”

The plan is to have NATO coordinate the work of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group – a forum of about 50 countries that has regularly gathered during the war to drum up weapons and ammunition for Ukraine – rather than the US European Command.

US General Christopher Cavoli is NATO’s top military commander, as well as the head of US European Command, so the person in charge would not change. But Stoltenberg said a formal “institutional framework” is needed as the war drags on and that NATO can provide it.


“More discussion needed

While NATO is desperate to do more for Ukraine, particularly while Russia holds a military advantage, its members are not ready to offer the country their ultimate security guarantee: membership.

Nor do they want to be dragged into a wider war with a nuclear-armed military power like Russia.

Under the new plan, which is expected to be endorsed by US President Joe Biden and his counterparts at their next summit in Washington in July, NATO would coordinate the military side of support efforts by assessing Ukraine’s needs, collecting pledges and running meetings.

“Moscow needs to understand that they cannot achieve their goals on the battlefield and they cannot wait us out,” Stoltenberg said, without giving details of his proposal.

However, some have urged caution saying there are many questions on where financing would come from and the plan could change dramatically by July.

“It’s dangerous to make promises that we can’t keep,” Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib told reporters when asked how much her country might be willing to contribute to a new fund. She said the plan requires more discussion.

Arriving at the talks, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock described the proposal as “right and important”, saying that aid for Ukraine should be disbursed via “reliable, long-term structures”.

Latvian Foreign Minister Krisjanis Karins also welcomed the fund proposal, suggesting that contributions could be a percentage of each member’s GDP.

Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib said ministers would discuss the feasibility of Stoltenberg’s proposal and what each could contribute.

Russia accused NATO of returning to a Cold War mindset.

Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Maria Zakharova said, “In relations with Russia, the bloc has returned to Cold War setting.”

She said NATO has no place in the “multipolar world” that Moscow says it seeks to build to end US dominance, but that it remains the focus of Russian attention.

Separately on Wednesday, Ukraine lowered the military conscription age from 27 to 25 as it aimed to replenish its depleted ranks after more than two years of war.

A shortage of infantry combined with a severe ammunition shortfall has helped hand Russian troops the initiative.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies