1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Pro-Ukraine alliance pledges more military aid

October 11, 2023

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy traveled to NATO's Brussels headquarters to ask for aid. He is keen to keep global attention on Ukraine's battle against Russia.

Zelenskyy (left) walks with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels
President Zelenskyy (left) and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in BrusselsImage: Virginia Mayo/AP Photo/picture alliance

As is typically the case, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's recent trip abroad went unannounced for security reasons. That explains why some NATO defense ministers and other allies in Brussels were surprised when Zelenskyy personally attended the latest meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group (UDCG), also known as the Ramstein group, named after the US airbase in Germany. At the summit, Zelenskyy again called for more weapons, ammunition and financial aid for Ukraine, which has been under attack by Russia since February 2022.

The UDCG includes all 31 NATO member states alongside 23 further nations in support of Ukraine such as Australia, Japan, Pakistan, Kenya and Cambodia. Although these 54 state representatives are meeting at NATO's headquarters, the defense alliance emphasizes that UDCG is not a NATO body. UDCG is chaired by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Brussels-based diplomats say NATO is keen to avoid being perceived by Russia as a party to the war. Russia, however, has regarded the alliance as just this for a long time. Weapons deliveries to Ukraine are therefore always made by individual member states rather than NATO itself.

Firefighters work to put out a fire in a thermal power plant in Kyiv
Ukraine is trying to keep Russia from knocking out energy infrastructure as it did in 2022Image: State Emergency Service of Ukraine via REUTERS

The UDCG is convening for the 16th time since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. These meetings have led to the provision of modern battle tanks, heavy artillery, ammunition, training and cruise missiles to Ukraine, which will also receive modern fighter jets in the future.

'Very concrete things'

To get through the coming winter, Ukraine needs the means to defend itself against Russian drones, missiles and fighter aircraft. "It is very important that there are priorities, air defense systems," Zelenskyy said in Brussels. He traveled to Belgium to stress this and urge his allies to help. "It is not just about basic words," Zelenskyy told the group. "We have very concrete things. We need them on concrete geographic points on our land to save the energy network, to save people, to save the transit of grain for Africa, Asia and the world."

The United States, Britain, Germany, Romania and other governments pledged additional aid to Ukraine ahead of the latest UDCG meeting. The German government has put together a "winter package" of weapons and equipment, worth some €1 billion ($1.06 billion). It includes air defense systems and an additional Patriot system against missile attacks. However, the German package does not include Taurus cruise missiles, which Ukraine had requested on several occasions. The UDCG has so far pledged aid worth €31 billion.

Two German Patriot air defense systems are seen at Vilnius airport
Ukraine will receive one more German Patriot air defense systemImage: Ints Kalnins/REUTERS

After a meeting with Zelenskyy, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced that Belgium would deliver F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, along with training for pilots and maintenance. The jets will not, however, be delivered until 2025, when Belgium receives modern US-made F-35 fighter aircraft.

Belgium is part of a group of countries that plan to hand over F-16 multirole fighter jets to the Ukrainian Air Force in the next few years. So far, the Netherlands and Denmark have announced that they will supply a number of F-16s. In addition, De Croo announced that the trade of Russian diamonds could soon be stopped in Belgium. Russian state bank assets, frozen in Belgium, cannot be expropriated, De Croo said. However, taxes that Russia must pay to Belgium on income generated from assets will be transferred to Ukraine, he said. These funds would amount to €1.7 billion in 2024.

Ukraine's energy infrastructure

NATO diplomats do not expect Ukraine's army to continue its counteroffensive against Russian this winter. They say Ukraine does not have sufficient troops and resources to do so. Instead, diplomats told DW, Ukraine will seek to hold its positions and prevent advances by Russia. "What we are seeing now is that President Putin is preparing once again to use winter as a weapon of war," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. " That means attacking the energy system, the gas infrastructure. We need to prevent that. With more advanced and increased capabilities for air defense, we can make a big difference."

Ukraine's Zelenskyy shakes hands with Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo
Belgium will provide fighter jets to UkraineImage: Yves Herman/REUTERS

NATO may also have to deal with possible attacks on its own energy infrastructure. The suspected attack on a subsea gas pipeline and a telecommunications cable between NATO member states Finland and Estonia last weekend caused alarm in Brussels. There are suspicions that Russia damaged the infrastructure. If this proves to be true, there will be a "unified and firm" NATO response, Stoltenberg said.

Saturday's terror attacks in Israel by Hamas militants also played a role in Zelenskyy's latest talks with his allies. Could the Middle East conflict draw their attention and resources away from Ukraine? "I want to be honest with you," Zelenskyy said in response to a question from DW in Brussels. "Of course it is a dangerous situation first of all for the people Ukraine who are in this long war. Everybody is afraid, if there are some other tragedies, with all respect to the people there. There is a certain volume of military support, that partners, especially the United States, the EU and others can give you."

In the US, a budget dispute in Congress could threaten future funding for Ukraine. The White House has pledged that aid will continue. But the commitment could wane, especially if a different administration takes over after the US presidential election in November 2024. Zelenskyy said he had asked his allies whether there was a risk that support could dry up. "The partners said no, but who knows how it will be," he said. He added that "we count on bipartisan support in the US and we count on our friends in the European Union."

Secretary General Stoltenberg stressed that NATO countries would help Ukraine in the war against Russia for as long as necessary. "Their fight is our fight, their security is our security, your values are our values," Stoltenberg assured Zelenskyy, who has sought EU and NATO membership for Ukraine.

Baltic Sea mystery - Who blew up the Nord Stream pipelines?

This article was originally written in German.

Bernd Riegert
Bernd Riegert Senior European correspondent in Brussels with a focus on people and politics in the European Union