- NATO calls Russia ‘largest and most direct threat’
- Says more weapons in preparation for ‘heroic’ Ukraine
- Ukraine hails NATO’s ‘difficult but essential decisions’
- Russian missile attacks intensify across Ukraine
- The battle for the eastern city of Lysychansk continues
MADRID/KYIV, June 29 (Reuters) – NATO on Wednesday called Russia the most significant “direct threat” to Western security after its invasion of Ukraine and agreed plans to modernize Kyiv’s beleaguered armed forces , saying she fully supports the “heroic defense of their country”.
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 bordering Ukraine. These included a permanent army headquarters with an accompanying battalion in Poland – the first full-time American deployment to NATO’s eastern fringes. Read more
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“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 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 Zelenskiy 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.
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. Read more
Zelenskiy, 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. Read more
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said NATO enlargement was “destabilizing” and would not improve the security of its members.
Russia’s escalation of attacks in Ukraine, after a missile strike killed at least 18 people in a shopping mall in a central city far from the front lines on Monday, comes as Russian forces are making slow but steady progress respite in a war that is in its fifth month.
Yet Western analysts say the Russians are taking heavy casualties and depleting their resources, while the prospect of more Western weapons reaching Ukraine, including long-range missile systems, makes Moscow’s need more urgent. to consolidate its gains.
In Mykolaiv, Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych said eight Russian missiles hit the city, including an apartment building. Photographs showed smoke billowing from a four-story building with the top floor partly destroyed.
The Russian Defense Ministry said its forces carried out strikes on a military training base for “foreign mercenaries” near Mykolaiv and also hit an ammunition fuel storage. Reuters was unable to independently verify the information.
A river port and shipbuilding center off the Black Sea, Mykolaiv has been a stronghold against Russian efforts to push west towards the main Ukrainian port of Odessa.
Oleksander Vilkul, governor of Kryvyi Rih in central Ukraine, said Russian shelling had also increased there.
The top US intelligence official said on Wednesday that Putin still aims to take most of Ukraine, but the most likely short-term scenario is a bitter conflict in which Moscow makes only additional gains but no breakthrough towards his goal.
“In short, the picture remains bleak,” Avril Haines, director of national intelligence, told a conference in Washington.
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Reports from Reuters offices; written by Stephen Coates, Angus MacSwan and Mark Heinrich; edited by Peter Graff, Frank Jack Daniel and Gareth Jones
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