BUCHAREST: NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg warned Tuesday that Russia was using winter as a “weapon of war” against Ukraine, as Western allies meeting in Bucharest planned to help Kyiv mend its ravaged power grid.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was to announce “substantial” financial aid to help Ukraine deal with damaged infrastructure on the sidelines of a meeting of NATO’s foreign ministers.
A senior US official said the assistance would “not be the end” and pointed out the Biden administration had budgeted $1.1 billion for energy spending in Ukraine and neighbouring Moldova.
A Russian campaign of missile strikes has severely damaged Ukraine’s energy infrastructure and plunged millions into darkness as the country braces against the first snows and chill winds of winter.
Stoltenberg said “the message from all of us will be that we need to do more” to help Kyiv fix its gas and electricity infrastructure and provide air defence to help it protect itself better.
He said he expected Russia to carry out more attacks on Ukraine’s grid as the Kremlin suffers defeats on the ground and warned Europe should “be prepared for more refugees”.
“Russia is actually failing on the battlefield. In response to that they are now attacking civilian targets, cities because they’re not able to win territory,” Stoltenberg said at the start of the two-day meeting.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba was to meet his NATO counterparts to urge them to send more weaponry for Kyiv and assistance in coping with Moscow’s attacks.
– ‘Keep calm, give tanks’ –
“This targeting of civilian infrastructure, of energy infrastructure is obviously designed to try and freeze the Ukrainians into submission,” said British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly.
“I don’t think it’ll be successful.”
Allies have given arms worth billions of dollars to Ukraine, but Kyiv is pleading for more air defence, tanks and longer-range missiles to push the Kremlin’s forces back.
But there are growing concerns that weapon stores in some NATO countries are running low as stockpiles have been diverted to Ukraine.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said his request to fellow NATO ministers was simple: “Keep calm and give tanks”.
Germany, which currently chairs the G7, has convened a meeting Tuesday afternoon on the sidelines of the NATO gathering to discuss the energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine.
The United States will call on the other member countries to strengthen their aid in this area, according to the US official.
– ‘Door is open’ –
NATO says the meeting in Bucharest will showcase its unity on continuing to support Ukraine as Moscow’s war against its neighbour drags on into its tenth month.
The alliance will not, however, make any progress on Ukraine’s request to join, first made some 14 years ago when NATO first pledged that Kyiv would one day become a member.
Stoltenberg insisted that the “door is open” to new members but said the focus now was on assisting Ukraine in its fight with Moscow.
NATO has bolstered its eastern flank in the face of Russia’s war by sending more troops and equipment to countries like Romania, neighbouring Ukraine.
Romania has been hard hit by the war and around two million people fleeing Ukraine have passed through the country.
Non-NATO Moldova, which has also seen blackouts caused by the fallout from the attacks on neighbouring Ukraine, will attend the alliance’s talks on Thursday along with Bosnia and Georgia.
Besides the war in Ukraine, the ministers will take stock of progress in the accession of NATO candidates Finland and Sweden, already ratified by 28 of the 30 member countries but which remains suspended awaiting the green light from Hungary and Turkey.
The Finnish, Swedish and Turkish foreign ministers were meeting on the sidelines of the meeting, but Ankara has played down hope for any quick breakthrough.