NATO chief urges long-term Ukraine aid as Russian army advances

With Russian troops once again advancing in eastern Ukraine, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has accused alliance members of failing to provide Kyiv with promised military aid and renewed calls for a more sustainable response to Russian aggression.

Speaking during an unannounced visit to Kyiv on Monday, Stoltenberg acknowledged that supply shortfalls had left Ukraine increasingly outgunned in recent months and had enabled the Russian military to seize new territory. “Serious delays in support have meant serious consequences on the battlefield,” he commented.

The NATO chief’s frank remarks come following an April 20 US House of Representatives vote that unblocked vital Ukraine aid following months of deadlock that had forced Ukrainian troops to ration ammunition and created growing gaps in the country’s air defenses. In addition to this long-awaited US military aid, Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands have all also recently announced large new support packages.

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Officials in Kyiv hope this new wave of weapons deliveries will arrive in time to help stabilize the front lines of the war and prevent further Russian advances. In recent months, Russia has taken advantage of the Ukrainian military’s mounting supply problems to edge forward at various points along the one thousand kilometer front line, often overwhelming Ukrainian defenses with sheer numbers and relentless bombardments.

During Stoltenberg’s Kyiv visit, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged NATO partners to send additional military aid as quickly as possible. The Ukrainian leader said the battlefield situation “directly depended” on the timely delivery of ammunition supplies to Ukraine. “Today, I don’t see any positive developments on this point yet. Some supplies have begun to arrive, but this process needs to speed up.”

The sense of urgency in Kyiv reflects widespread expectations that Vladimir Putin will launch a major summer offensive in late May or early June. Having already succeeded in regaining the battlefield initiative, Russian commanders now hope to smash through Ukraine’s weakened defensive lines and achieve major territorial gains for the first time since the initial stages of the invasion in spring 2022. Ukraine’s international partners currently find themselves in a race against the clock to strengthen the country’s defensive capabilities before Russia’s anticipated offensive can get fully underway.

Ukraine’s recent supply issues and battlefield setbacks have highlighted the need for a more reliable long-term approach to arming the country against Russia. At present, Ukraine’s ability to defend itself depends heavily on the changing political winds in a number of Western capitals. This makes it difficult for Ukraine’s military and political leaders to plan future campaigns, while also encouraging the Kremlin to believe it can ultimately outlast the West in Ukraine.

In order to address this problem, Stoltenberg has proposed the creation of a $100 billion, five-year fund backed by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s 32 members. While in the Ukrainian capital, he reiterated his support for this initiative. “I believe we need a major, multi-year financial commitment to sustain our support. To demonstrate that our support to Ukraine is not short term and ad hoc, but long-term and predictable.”

Crucially, Stoltenberg believes a five-year fund would help convince the Kremlin that Ukraine’s NATO partners have the requisite resolve to maintain their support until Russia’s invasion is defeated. “Moscow must understand: They cannot win. And they cannot wait us out,” the NATO chief commented in Kyiv.

Stoltenberg’s message has never been more relevant. With the Russian invasion now in its third year, Putin is widely believed to be counting on a decline in Western support for Ukraine. Following the failure of his initial blitzkrieg attack in 2022, the Russian dictator has changed tactics and is now attempting to break Ukraine’s resistance in a long war of attrition. Given Russia’s vastly superior human and material resources, this approach has a good chance of succeeding, unless Ukraine’s Western partners remain committed to arming the country.

The issue of a long term military fund for Ukraine will likely be high on the agenda at the 2024 NATO Summit in Washington DC in July. With little hope of any meaningful progress on Ukraine’s NATO membership aspirations, a commitment to provide reliable long-term support may be the most realistic summit outcome for Kyiv. This would not solve the existential challenges posed by resurgent Russian imperialism, but it would bolster the Ukrainian war effort and dent morale in Moscow while sending a message to Putin that time is not on his side.

Peter Dickinson is editor of the Atlantic Council’s UkraineAlert service.

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The views expressed in UkraineAlert are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Atlantic Council, its staff, or its supporters.

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Image: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg addresses Ukrainian lawmakers during a parliament session, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv. April 29, 2024. (REUTERS/Andrii Nesterenko)