NATO on Wednesday called Russia the biggest “direct threat” to Western security after its invasion of Ukraine and agreed plans to modernize the beleaguered armed forces of Kyiv, saying it fully supports “heroic defense of their country” by the Ukrainians.
At a summit dominated by the invasion and the geopolitical upheavals it caused, NATO also invited Sweden and Finland to join the alliance and pledged to multiply by seven from 2023 the combat forces on high alert along its eastern flank against any future Russian attack.
US President Joe Biden has announced more land, sea and air deployments across Europe, from Spain in the west to Romania and Poland to the Ukraine border, including a permanent headquarters of the army with an accompanying battalion in Poland – the first full-time American deployment on NATO’s eastern fringes.
“President (Vladimir) Putin’s war against Ukraine has shattered the peace in Europe and created the biggest security crisis in Europe since World War II,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. during a press conference. “NATO responded with strength and unity,” he said.
As NATO’s 30 national leaders met in Madrid, Russian forces stepped up their attacks in Ukraine, including missile strikes and shelling on the southern Mykolaiv region near the front lines and the Black Sea. .
The top US intelligence official said on Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin still wants to take over most of Ukraine, but his forces are so depleted by the fighting that they can probably only make further gains at short term.
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, describing the current assessment of US intelligence on the more than four-month-old war, said the consensus of US spy agencies is that it will continue to work ‘for an extended period’ .
“In short, the picture remains quite bleak and Russia’s attitude toward the West is hardening,” Ms. Haines told a Commerce Department conference.
The mayor of the city of Mykolaiv said a Russian missile killed at least five people in a residential building there, while Moscow said its forces hit what it called a training base for foreign mercenaries in the region.
The governor of the eastern province of Luhansk says he has ‘fought all over the place’ in a battle around the hilltop town of Lysychansk, which Russian forces are trying to encircle as they gradually advance in a campaign to take over the entire industrialized region Eastern Donbass on behalf of separatist proxies.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reiterated to NATO leaders that Kyiv needed more arms and money, and faster, to erode Russia’s huge advantage in artillery firepower and missiles, and warned that the Kremlin’s ambitions do not stop at Ukraine.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba hailed NATO’s “lucid stance” on Russia and said the summit’s outcome proved “that it can take difficult but essential decisions”.
He added: “An equally strong and active stance on Ukraine will help protect Euro-Atlantic security and stability.”
Kyiv has expressed concern about the West’s slowness to offer more than moral support against an invasion that has devastated cities, killed thousands and forced millions to flee.
Russia says it is carrying out a “special military operation” in Ukraine to rid it of dangerous nationalists. Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of imperial-style land grabbing without provocation.
A NATO statement called Russia “the most significant and direct threat to the security of allies”, a nod to the precipitous deterioration of relations with Russia – previously classified as a “strategic partner” – since the invasion.
NATO has released a new strategic concept document, the first since 2010, that says “a strong and independent Ukraine is vital for the stability of the Euro-Atlantic area.”
To this end, NATO agreed on a package of long-term financial and military aid to modernize Ukraine’s largely Soviet-era military.
“We stand in full solidarity with the government and people of Ukraine in the heroic defense of their country,” the statement said.
The US-led alliance said it would also deploy “more robust in-place combat-ready forces” to its eastern flank, expanding existing battle groups to brigade-sized units.
Mr Stoltenberg said NATO had agreed to bring 300,000 troops to high readiness from 2023, up from 40,000 currently, as part of a new force model to protect an area stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea.
Mr Zelenskyy, in a video link to the summit, said Ukraine needed $5 billion a month for defense and protection.
“This is not a war waged by Russia only against Ukraine. This is a war for the right to dictate terms in Europe – for what the future world order will be,” he said.
NATO’s invitation to Sweden and Finland to join the alliance marks one of the most significant shifts in European security in decades as Helsinki and Stockholm abandon a tradition of neutrality in response to the Russian invasion.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said NATO enlargement was “destabilizing” and would not improve the security of its members.
Mr. Zelenskyy told Mr. Biden and other G7 leaders this week that he wanted the war to be over by the end of the year.
But Ms Haines’ comments suggest that the billions of dollars in modern weapons supplied by the United States and other countries to Mr Zelenskyy’s forces may not give them the ability to turn the tide against Russia from so early.
She said Mr Putin remained determined to invade most of Ukraine, even though Ukrainian forces repelled Russia’s attempt to seize the capital Kyiv in February, forcing Moscow to narrow its objective to the limit. seizure of the entire eastern region of Donbass.
“We think he does indeed have the same political goals that we had before, which is to say he wants to take most of Ukraine,” Ms Haines said.
Russian forces, however, have been so degraded by more than four months of fighting that they are unlikely to achieve Putin’s goal anytime soon, Ms Haines said in her first public assessment of the war since may.
“We perceive a disconnect between Putin’s short-term military goals in this area and the capability of his army, a sort of disconnect between his ambitions and what the army is capable of achieving,” she said. .
Mr. Putin’s priority now, she said, is to make gains in the Donbass region and to collapse Ukrainian forces, a development that Russia says will “collapse the resistance of the ‘interior’.