NATO coming to Ukraine's aid: Military, humanitarian, financial reinforcements

Though he said soldiers will never enter Ukraine, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that more soldiers, jets, combat ships and submarines will be deployed.

 A view shows service members of pro-Russian troops and tanks during Ukraine-Russia conflict on the outskirts of the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine March 20, 2022 (photo credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO)
A view shows service members of pro-Russian troops and tanks during Ukraine-Russia conflict on the outskirts of the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine March 20, 2022
(photo credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO)

BRUSSELS — NATO leaders agreed on Thursday to reinforce their military, financial and humanitarian support for Ukraine.

A determined-looking NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg hailed the courage of the Ukrainian leadership, declaring that NATO stands by the side of its people. While not a NATO member, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the summit meeting of NATO via Zoom.

The secretary general announced that the alliance will deploy more soldiers, jets, combat ships and submarines to the region, but stressed that soldiers would not enter Ukraine.

NATO will also not apply a no-fly zone for Russia.

The alliance will increase military drills in Europe, both in the east and near Norway. In total, 100,000 NATO soldiers will be deployed on the continent, mostly in eastern Europe.

 NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a news conference on the eve of a NATO summit, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Brussels, Belgium March 23, 2022.  (credit: REUTERS/GONZALO FUENTES) NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a news conference on the eve of a NATO summit, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Brussels, Belgium March 23, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/GONZALO FUENTES)

Stoltenberg said NATO members will supply Ukraine with more military equipment, including anti-missile systems and drones, and will help Ukraine prepare for the possibility of chemical or biological attacks. Any such use, he noted, would be a significant game-changer with grave consequences.

Stoltenberg called on China to join the West in sanctioning Russia, warning Beijing not to align with Moscow in the war. He further said that the leaders discussed energy security, emphasizing the need to diversify energy sources, and reduce dependability on Russian gas and petrol.

French President Macron met Thursday morning with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Addressing the media afterward, Macron hailed those who dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin in an effort to achieve a ceasefire, but did not mention the mediation efforts by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

Macron also announced the deployment of thousands of French soldiers to countries neighboring Ukraine.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who addressed the media right after Macron, said his country will send Ukraine 6,000 missiles on top of additional soldiers to be stationed in east Europe.

The day started with a meeting of the leaders of NATO country members in the organization’s headquarters on the outskirts of the Belgian capital. That meeting was followed by a short G7 meeting. An extraordinary summit of European Union leaders was expected later Thursday, to be continued on Friday.

US President Joe Biden arrived in Brussels on Wednesday night, and after taking part in the NATO and G7 meetings, was scheduled to participate in some of the EU discussions.

A tired-looking Biden said that together with other NATO leaders, a new package of sanctions, including sanctions against 400 Russian personalities, 300 from the Duma and Russian oligarchs, have been agreed upon. The US will also deploy further troops in neighboring countries. G7 countries will put in place a mechanism, he said, to control the implementation of the sanctions. He noted that while it seems to be impossible to remove Russia from the club of G20, he will demand that Zelensky be allowed to participate at the upcoming meeting.

With Biden participating in person, security was beefed up across the city. Several roads were blocked, mainly around the European institutions and around the NATO compound.

Diplomatic sources said that the EU had held tough talks in recent about a possible fifth sanction package against Russia, with Germany serving as the most reluctant party.

After sanctioning Russian banks, financial institutions and individuals, members of the European Union are now pushing for significant sanctions on the energy sector. Germany, which strongly depends on Russian gas and to some extent also on Russian petrol, is expected to pay dearly if such sanctions are indeed adopted.

Earlier this week, ambassadors of EU member states met in Brussels to discuss the issue, but did not reach a compromise. Nevertheless, in an effort to further pressure Moscow, the leaders might make a decision over the weekend.

The sources also said that European capitals have been pushing Israel to join sanctions, although the pressure is said to be mild, and no official diplomatic complaint has been addressed to the government in Jerusalem.

While pushing Israel on this issue, the European capitals also express some understanding of the delicate position vis-à-vis Russia in which Israel currently finds itself.

“We must ensure that the decision to invade a sovereign independent country is understood to be a strategic failure that carries with it ruinous costs for Putin and Russia,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the EU parliament.

Still, the pledges stopped short of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s calls for a full boycott of Russian energy and a no-fly zone over Ukraine, where Moscow’s bombs are wreaking havoc.

Thousands of people have been killed, millions made refugees, and cities pulverized since Russian leader Vladimir Putin unleashed his invasion on February 24.

“We ask for protection from (Russia) bombing us from the sky,” said refugee Svetlana, 55, on her way back to Ukraine from Poland to rejoin her family after initially seeking refuge. “And help us not only with equipment but with peace forces and professional soldiers.”

More than 3.6 million people have fled Ukraine since the invasion began, according to the UN. More than half of Ukraine’s children have been driven from their homes.

In the besieged southern port of Mariupol, which lies between Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern regions held by Russian-backed separatists, tens of thousands are hiding in basements with scant water, food, medicine or power.

In one part of the city captured by Russian troops, a patch of grass between charred hulks of blasted apartment buildings has become a makeshift graveyard. Freshly-dug mounds are marked with plastic flowers and crosses made from broken window frames.

Explosions sound in the background.

“It could have been me,” sobbed Viktoria as she buried her 73-year-old stepfather, killed 12 days ago when the car ferrying him to a hospital was blown up.

Ukrainian officials accused Russia on Thursday of having forcibly deported 15,000 people from the city to Russia.

Moscow denies this.

In a month of fighting, Ukraine has fended off what many analysts had anticipated would be a quick Russian victory.

So far, Moscow has failed to capture any major city. Its armored columns have barely moved in weeks, stalled at the gates of the capital Kyiv and besieging cities in the east.

They have taken heavy casualties and are low on supplies. Ukrainian officials say they are now shifting onto the offensive and have pushed back Russian forces, including north of Kyiv.

“In some sectors the enemy was driven back by more than 70 km (44 miles), in some sectors the enemy is at a distance of 35 km,” said Defense Ministry spokesperson Oleksander Motuzyanyk.

Ukraine said its forces had destroyed the Russian landing ship the “Orsk” at the Russian-occupied port of Berdyansk.

Video footage, which Reuters confirmed was from Berdyansk, showed smoke rising from a blaze at a dock and the flash of an explosion. Russian officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

As Biden rallied allies on his first trip aboard since the war began, Washington announced the latest sanctions against Russia, $1 billion more in humanitarian aid for Ukraine, and an offer to take in 100,000 refugees.

The Kremlin said NATO suffered from an “hysterical and inadequate” understanding of what is going on in Ukraine.

Zelenskiy, who has won admiration across the West for leadership under fire, urged people around the world to take to the streets in support of Ukraine.

“Come from your offices, your homes, your schools and universities, come in the name of peace, come with Ukrainian symbols to support Ukraine, to support freedom, to support life,” he said in a video address.

Ukraine’s armed forces chief of staff said on Thursday that Russia was still trying to resume offensive operations to capture the cities of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv and Mariupol.

In Mariupol, satellite photographs from commercial firm Maxar showed massive destruction of what was once a city of 400,000 people, with apartment buildings in flames.

Journalists have not been able to report from inside the Ukrainian-held part of Mariupol for 10 days, during which time Ukraine says Russia has bombed a theater and an art school being used as shelters, burying hundreds alive.

In the Russian-held part of the city, trucks arrived with food supplies in cardboard boxes bearing the “Z” logo that has become the Russian symbol of its “special operation.” Hundreds of people, many elderly, emerged from surrounding ruins, queuing mostly in silence as men in Russian emergencies ministry uniforms distributed boxes.

Angelina, a young mother-of-two, said she had received bread, diapers and baby food. “It’s difficult to leave by bus now,” she said. “We hope the number of people trying to get out will go down and it will get easier for us to leave."