NATO ministers this week will consider how to boost support for Ukraine as Russia pivots to an expected offensive in the country’s east, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday.
Speaking ahead of a meeting of the Western military alliance’s foreign ministers, Stoltenberg said that while Russia is moving back some of its troops around the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, “Moscow is not giving up its ambitions in Ukraine.”
“We now see a significant movement of troops away from Kyiv — to regroup, rearm and resupply, and they shift their focus to the east,” the secretary-general told reporters.
“In the coming weeks,” Stoltenberg said, “we expect a further Russian push in the eastern and southern Ukraine to try to take the entire Donbas and to create a land bridge to occupied Crimea,” a portion of Ukraine that Russia annexed in 2014.
“This is a crucial phase of the war,” he added.
NATO ministers, who are scheduled to meet in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday, will discuss how to best assist Kyiv through that phase. Joining part of the discussion will be Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, as well as partners from non-NATO countries Finland, Sweden and Georgia. The EU and Asia-Pacific partners from Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea will also participate.
The meeting comes amid growing outrage over the Russian military’s atrocities in Ukraine, with concern deepening about the targeting of civilians in areas under Moscow’s control.
Stoltenberg referred to the murder of civilians as “unbearable brutality that Europe has not witnessed in many decades,” stressing that “targeting and murdering civilians is a war crime.”
NATO allies, he said, “are determined to provide further support to Ukraine, including anti-tank weapons, air-defense systems and other equipment.” Stoltenberg declined to offer details, citing operational security but indicated it would include more of the same equipment.
“These relatively light weapons have a huge impact,” he said.
Ukrainians have been able to shoot down Russian planes, helicopters and drones “because of advanced air-defense systems delivered by NATO allies,” Stoltenberg said. Beyond weapons, the secretary-general noted, Ukraine needs fuel, ammunition, helmets, protective gear and medical supplies.
As Russia prepares for its next offensive, Stoltenberg implored allies to lend a hand to Kyiv.
“The repositioning of the Russian troops will take some time, some weeks,” he said. “But after that, we’re afraid that we can see a big Russian offensive in Donbas.”
“In that window,” Stoltenberg added, “it is extremely important that NATO allies provide support.”