BRUSSELS: President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged Ukraine’s allies on Wednesday (Oct 11) to arm his country to survive the winter, on his first visit to the alliance’s headquarters since Russia’s all-out invasion.
Zelenskyy made a plea for air defence, long-range missiles and ammunition in the face of fears that the Hamas attack on Israel could distract key backer the United States from the conflict in his country.
“How to survive during this next winter for us is big,” Zelenskyy said as he addressed the media with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg before meeting alliance defence ministers.
“We are preparing, we are ready. Now we need some support from the leaders. That’s why I’m here today.”
Zelenskyy later announced he had received assurances from Washington that military aid to Ukraine would remain “constant and uninterrupted”.
“It was made clear that America will continue to provide Ukraine with the constant and uninterrupted support necessary for its defence,” he said in his daily address.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had announced a fresh tranche of weaponry for Kyiv worth US$200 million, including air defence missiles to help Ukraine stave off an expected winter onslaught by Russia.
“Make no mistake,” Austin said, at the start of the meeting with Ukraine’s international backers. “The United States will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.”
The latest arms package from Washington is the first announced since turmoil in the US Congress cast doubt on the ability of President Joe Biden to maintain support.
The Ukrainian president has more recently expressed worries that the crisis in Israel could deflect attention from the war unleashed in his homeland by Russian President Vladimir Putin almost 600 days ago.
“Who knows how it will be? I think nobody knows,” Zelenskyy said.
But Austin insisted that “the United States will remain able to project power and to direct resources to tackle crises in multiple theatres.
“We will stand firmly with Israel as we continue to support Ukraine,” he said.
Zelenskyy urged the West to rally around the Israeli people as Kyiv’s backers did for Ukraine after Russia’s invasion last year, and show them they are not “alone”.
“Terrorists like Putin, or like Hamas, seek to hold free and democratic nations as hostages and they want power over those who seek freedom,” Zelenskyy said.
“The terrorists will not change. They just must lose.”
Zelenskyy underscored the importance of air defence to protect Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure as the country gears up for a repeat of Moscow’s bombing campaign last winter.
“Dear friends, we must win the winter battle against terror,” he told Kyiv’s backers.
Israel’s defence minister was set to brief his NATO counterparts by video-link on Thursday.
The crisis in Israel comes as the White House is scrambling to find a way to keep weapon supplies flowing to Ukraine after difficulties in the US Congress.
Biden has tried to calm nerves among allies over Washington’s backing for Kyiv after new assistance was dropped from a deal in the US Congress to avoid a government shutdown this month.
The United States has given as much military support to Ukraine on its own as all European NATO members and Canada combined since Moscow launched its all-out invasion last year.
Western diplomats at NATO insist there is no danger of arms supplies to Ukraine drying up in the near future.
“We must continue to step up and sustain the steady flow, of weapons and ammunition to Ukraine,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said.
Dutch Defence Minister Kajsa Ollongren insisted the “war in Ukraine has our attention, and Ukraine has our full support”.
Ukraine is pushing to become a member of NATO in a bid to ensure its long-term security in the face of Moscow’s ambitions.
At a summit this summer, alliance leaders simplified Kyiv’s path for joining, but did not offer a clear invitation or deadline for Ukraine to become a member.