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NATO defense ministers meet as Ukraine seeks military aid

February 14, 2023

Defense ministers will discuss Finland and Sweden's bid to join the alliance, continuing support for Ukraine and their own ammunition stocks.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks at a NATO defence ministers meeting at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg suggested that Putin was not "preparing for peace"Image: Johanna Geron/REUTERS

NATO defense ministers kicked off a two-day gathering in Brussels to discuss Finland and Sweden's membership bids, support for Ukraine as well as the alliance's attempts to stock up on weapons and ammunition and the protection of submarine infrastructure. 

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley gave a joint press conference Tuesday on further military aid to Kyiv.

"We will continue to uphold the values of sovereignty and freedom. We will continue to support Ukraine," Milley said.

He detailed the difficulties of the battle in Ukraine, calling it a "very significant grinding battle of attrition with very high casualties, especially on the Russian side," most notably in the Bakhmut area.

"The frontline is very stable, very violent but it is holding," Milley noted.

Speaking ahead of the defense ministers' meeting, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that it was more important that Finland and Sweden's applications were ratified quickly, than together.

"The main question is not whether Finland and Sweden are ratified together. The main question is that they are both ratified as full members as soon as possible," Stoltenberg told reporters.

What's on the agenda at the two-day meeting? 

The ministers are to discuss how to increase production for ammunition as continued deliveries to Ukraine have put a strain on the alliance's own stockpiles. 

On Tuesday evening, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov was scheduled to join the NATO ministers. He was also set to attend a US-led meeting for the coordination of weapon deliveries to Ukraine alongside around 50 countries on Tuesday morning.

Ukraine’s Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov shows a handkerchief with a F-35 fighter jet
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov is expected to urge the NATO ministers for fighter jets for UkraineImage: Olivier Matthys/AFP

It is expected that Reznikov will call for the delivery of fighter jets after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appealed for the supply of planes while in Brussels last week.

No decision on the fighter jets has yet been made, nor was one expected for Tuesday. 

At a press conference Tuesday, the US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin instead returned the focus to the commitments already made by NATO allies to Ukraine.

"It's a monumental task to bring all those systems together, get the troops trained, sustainment systems and get them into the battle," he said.

Also on the agenda is how to better protect critical underwater infrastructure following alleged acts of sabotage on the Nord Stream natural gas pipelines. On Wednesday, the gathering was expected to focus on NATO's presence in eastern Europe. 

Finland and Sweden's potential accession to NATO, and Turkey's attempt to block the move, would also be part of the discussions. 


Stoltenberg calls for continued support for Ukraine 

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called for a prompt supply of ammunition, fuel and spare parts to Ukraine on Monday.

Stoltenberg reiterated that NATO had to guarantee Ukraine received the weapons it needed "to win this war" and that Russian President Vladimir Putin was not arranging for peace but rather "preparing for more war."

"We see no signs that President Putin is preparing for peace, what we see is the opposite, he is preparing for more war, new offensives and new attacks," said Stoltenberg.

"This is a grinding war of attrition, therefore a battle of logistics," added Stoltenberg, referring to Ukraine's calls for further weapons and fighter jets. 

'No peace in sight', German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius says 

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said he expected the war in Ukraine to be long-lasting. "There will be no short-term end to the war," he said before the meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels. "Nor do I see a short-term winner," he added.

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius arrives at a NATO defence ministers meeting at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said he did not see a "short-term winner" to the warImage: Johanna Geron/REUTERS

That's why it was important to strike the right balance in the supply of weapons to Ukraine, he said. German support for Ukraine was underway, with a priority focusing on air defenses and the supply of ammunition. 

Pistorius announced that Germany would resume the production of ammunition for Gepard battle tanks. "Contracts for the production of Gepard ammunition have been signed," Pistorius said before the NATO defense ministers' meeting in Brussels. 

The decision was made to create greater independence from Switzerland, Pistorius stressed. The Swiss government has thus far refused to allow the delivery of ammunition from domestic production for the Gepard tanks supplied by Germany, citing the country's neutral status. Pistorius appealed to the German arms industry to ramp up production capacities.

ar, kb, los/fb (dpa, AFP, Reuters)