NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has made a surprise visit to Ukraine, his first trip to the war-torn country since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February last year.
"The NATO secretary-general is in Ukraine. We will release more information as soon as possible," an unnamed alliance official told the Associated Press (AP) on Thursday.
During his trip, the Norwegian national visited an open air exhibition of damaged Russian military equipment and paid his respects at a monument dedicated to fallen Ukrainian soldiers on St Michael's Square in central Kyiv.
⚡️Jens Stoltenberg arrives in Kyiv.The NATO Secretary-General was seen by a Kyiv Independent journalist on the morning of April 20 paying tribute to fallen Ukrainian soldiers on St Michael's Square in central Kyiv. pic.twitter.com/QhY515J305 — The Kyiv Independent (@KyivIndependent) April 20, 2023
The Secretary-General's visit is highly symbolic, given that Ukraine is expected to launch a much-anticipated counteroffensive against Russian-occupied positions in the south and east of the country within the coming days.
Since 2019, Ukraine's own constitution has formally committed the country to seeking NATO membership. At the alliance's 2021 Summit in Brussels, NATO reiterated its position, first articulated at the 2008 Bucharest Summit, that "Ukraine will become a member of the alliance".
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Although NATO is not formally involved in the conflict in Ukraine, the alliance estimates that its member states have provided up to €112 billion in military, humanitarian, and financial aid to Kyiv since February last year.
NATO expansion to and influence over Ukraine have been repeatedly condemned by senior Kremlin officials. In a speech issued on the eve of the invasion last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that NATO posed a "fundamental threat" to Russia's security.