NATO mobilizes to maintain and speed up arms delivery to Ukraine

(AFP) Ukraine’s Western allies pledged Tuesday (14) in Brussels to maintain the huge amounts of ammunition and weapons Ukraine needs as fighting over Bakhmut intensified.

Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky said on Tuesday that the situation has grown increasingly delicate in the east of the country, where Russian troops have advanced in recent weeks.

“The situation on the front line, and in particular in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, continues to be extremely difficult. It is literally a meter-by-meter battle,” the Ukrainian president declared in his evening address.

Zelensky toned down his demands for fighter jets after getting promises from allies for tanks, air defense, and missiles.

Meeting at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) headquarters in Brussels, Ukraine’s allies focused on securing the flow of ammunition and armor they need to counter the Russian offensive on the ground.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said his country’s priorities are to improve anti-aircraft defense, increase tank supplies, and secure ammunition stocks.

As he left the meeting, U.S. General Mark Milley said that Russia has already lost this war. “Russia has lost, lost strategically, operationally and tactically, and is paying a high price,” he declared.

But as hostilities persist, “the international community will continue to support Ukraine with the equipment and capabilities it needs,” he added.

Ukraine’s Western allies, led by the United States, have already provided tens of billions of dollars in weapons to contribute to the country’s defense.

Now, days before a full year of war, NATO says Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be launching a new and broader offensive in eastern Ukraine.

“Russia is introducing new troops to the battlefield. Many of these troops are poorly trained and poorly equipped, so the casualty rate has been really high,” said U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

For him, Ukraine is trying to change the directions of the conflict to gain momentum. Austin expects Ukrainian forces to launch their own counteroffensive in the spring.

  • “Meat Grinder” –

On the ground in eastern Ukraine, an AFP team heard heavy artillery fire against Russian lines around the city of Bakhmut, the target of a major Russian offensive. The town is not considered strategic, but has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance.

The head of the Russian paramilitary group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, admitted that Bakhmut “will not be taken tomorrow, because there is strong resistance and shelling. It is a functioning meat grinder.”

On Monday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that Ukraine is using more ammunition than NATO is capable of producing and warned that contracts with arms industries need to be strengthened.

According to German press reports, these contracts would allow 300,000 munitions to be delivered to Ukraine starting in July.

For European NATO allies, the flow of ammunition for the weapons supplied to the Ukrainians has become a problematic priority.

Stoltenberg points out that this is a war of attrition and a logistical battle.

In particular, the Ukrainians urgently need 155 millimeter ammunition, of which they use thousands daily.

Germany’s Defense Minister Boris Pistorius announced that his country’s industry is preparing to strengthen a production line of ammunition specifically for Guepard anti-aircraft defense systems.

“The contracts have already been signed with the manufacturers,” he said. According to German media, these contracts would allow the delivery of 300,000 munitions to Ukraine starting in July.

The urgency of finding mechanisms to raise ammunition production capacity momentarily left the sensitive issue of the fighter jets requested by Ukraine out of the discussion.

A senior US official said that sending aircraft “is not something we are talking about at this table right now.”

For its part, Slovakia has said it is willing to discuss sending old Soviet MiG-29 aircraft to help replace Ukraine’s losses.

For Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren, the discussion “will take time.” Ukraine has asked the Netherlands to give up American F-16 jets.

On Monday, Stoltenberg insisted that “the question of the planes is not the most urgent issue at the moment, but it is an ongoing discussion.”

For the NATO chief, “the urgent need now is to fulfill what has already been promised.”

Belarus Army trains near the EU border

A few kilometers from the European Union (EU), the special forces of Belarus, Russia’s only ally in the war against Ukraine, train to be “ready” for any surprise.

During training, soldiers run around, shrouded in white smoke, and fire automatic weapons.

A little further on, some paratroopers practice landing, while others walk on a taut rope before the eyes of a group of journalists, among them an AFP team, invited by this country where the presence of the Western press is rarely allowed.

Belarus, ruled by Alexander Lukashenko since 1994, is subject to European and American sanctions for its repression of the opposition and for ceding its territory to Russian forces at the beginning of its offensive against Ukraine, launched on February 24, 2022.

The Belarusian president tirelessly repeats that his army, consisting of some 70,000 troops, will not fight on Ukrainian territory. But concern has been growing for months that his forces will end up entering the battlefield in the heat of a new offensive from Moscow.

Especially when an unknown but significant number of Russian soldiers are still present in Belarus.

Just four kilometers from the border with EU and NATO member Poland, men from the 38th brigade train under a portrait of President Lukashenko in gala uniform.

The banner is accompanied by one of his most famous phrases: “Today there is no more important task than to defend what has been conquered, our people and our land.”

“We are prepared to fulfill all tasks, even the most difficult ones,” Vadim Lukashevich, deputy commander of Belarus’ special forces, told AFP, carefully avoiding referring to the conflict in Ukraine, just 50 kilometers away.

“The situation is stable,” the officer added, “but we are preparing because we must be ready to fulfill our mission in highly changeable conditions.”

  • “If they attack us” –

Lukashenko regularly denies that he will enter the war with Ukraine, and both he and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, deny the intention of wanting to merge the two countries, another recurring rumor.

Nevertheless, Lukashenko is a nostalgic for the Soviet era. In recent months, he has multiplied martial speeches, sworn loyalty to Moscow, and accused Westerners of wanting to overthrow him and preparing an attack on Russia.

Gone are the days when the Belarusian president acted as a mediator, hosting the leaders of France, Germany, Ukraine, and Russia in Minsk in 2015 for negotiations that culminated in a ceasefire agreement in eastern Ukraine that was never fully implemented.

During a press visit to this training center in Brest, western Belarus, military officer Vadim Lukashevich said that his country is attached to “peace” and “stability.”

“Belarusians are a peaceful people,” insisted another military man, who did not want to be identified. “We don’t attack anyone, but if they attack us…”

NATO does not rule out separate Swedish and Finnish membership

The Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Norway’s Jens Stoltenberg, said on Tuesday (14) that he is working to advance the membership applications of Sweden and Finland, and did not rule out the possibility of processing the demands separately.

“The central question is not whether Finland and Sweden will be ratified at the same time. The central question is whether they are ratified as full (NATO) members as soon as possible,” Stoltenberg said ahead of an alliance ministerial meeting.

“I am sure that the two countries will be full members. And we are working very hard to get them ratified as soon as possible,” he added.

Last year, Finland and Sweden abandoned decades of automatic military non-alignment with NATO and submitted applications in May to join the alliance, a step that needs unanimity among the bloc’s countries.

However, Turkey (a key member of NATO) has filed its veto, in particular to Sweden, because Sweden gives refuge to Kurdish leaders and people Ankara suspects participated in the 2016 coup attempt.

Last month, the Turkish government reacted with irritation to Sweden’s decision to allow far-right demonstrators to organize a protest outside the country’s embassy in Stockholm, where some people even burned a copy of the Quran.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, however, has already mentioned a difference in Finland’s attitude.

The Finnish government has expressed a desire to join NATO alongside neighboring Sweden. Despite the statement, polls indicate that most Finns want membership in the organization even if Sweden’s demand is relegated.

Finland and Sweden are. in fact, already partially integrated into some NATO actions. The defense ministers of both countries participate in meetings of the military alliance.

*** Translated by the DEFCONPress FYI Team ***

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