'More united than ever': NATO allies to coordinate further support for Ukraine

'More united than ever': NATO allies to coordinate further support for Ukraine
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin. Credit: Belga

NATO allies are set to meet at the US Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Friday, where they are expected to announce further military aid to Ukraine in its ongoing defence against Russia's invasion.

The gathering represents the eleventh meeting of the "Ukraine Defence Contact Group": a broad coalition consisting of all 31 NATO members as well as 24 other allied countries. Convened by US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, attendees include Belgian Defence Minister Ludivine Dedonder and her Ukrainian counterpart Oleksii Reznikov.

In his opening remarks, Austin praised the Contact Group's "moral clarity," and noted that its members have provided more than $55 billion (€50 billion) in military aid to Kyiv since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February last year.

"Together, we will make sure that Ukraine has what it needs to live in freedom," Austin said. "Together, we will defend the rules-based international order that keeps us all secure. And together we will support Ukraine for as long as it takes."

Leading up to the meeting, Denmark and the Netherlands jointly announced their intention to supply Ukraine with 14 Leopard 2A4 battle tanks. The decision was warmly welcomed by Kyiv, which is expected to launch a much-anticipated counteroffensive against Russian-occupied positions in the south and east of the country within the coming days.

An 'unauthorised disclosure'

Austin also addressed the recent leak of classified Pentagon documents, which among other things appeared to show that Ukraine's air defences are at serious risk of running out of ammunition within the next few weeks unless NATO allies immediately step up arms shipments to Kyiv.

"Now, I know that many of you have been following the reports of unauthorised disclosure of sensitive and classified U.S. material," Austin said. "I take this issue very seriously. We will not let anything fracture our unity. This Contact Group is more united and global than ever."

One of the leaked documents, dated 28 February, estimated that Ukraine's Soviet-era S-300 and Buk air defence systems will be fully depleted by early May and mid-April respectively. Both systems collectively account for almost the entirety of the Ukrainian Armed Forces' defence against Russian missile and air attacks.

Another document suggested that special forces units from NATO countries including the US, France, and the UK are currently active in Ukraine – an allegation long made by Russia but dismissed by NATO allies.

'Ukraine's rightful place is in NATO'

Earlier on Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy posted remarks on social media in which he claimed that he is "grateful" for the support received by NATO allies so far, and reiterated his desire for Kyiv to be admitted to the US-led alliance.

"It's difficult to even say whose contribution to European and Euro-Atlantic security is greater than that of our warriors who defend freedom with their lives," Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter. "I'm grateful to all partners who support us in this. Ukraine did everything to ensure the approval of our NATO application."

Later on Friday morning, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg — who made a surprise visit to Kyiv on Thursday — reaffirmed the alliance's commitment Ukraine's membership.

"Let me be clear: Ukraine's rightful place is in the Euro-Atlantic family; Ukraine's rightful place is in NATO," he said.

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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."

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.

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