NATO promised on Wednesday to support Ukraine as long as necessary in the face of the “cruelty” of Russia, during a summit organized until Thursday in Madrid. Turkey has finally withdrawn its veto on the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO, and the United Kingdom has announced an increase in its financial and military aid to kyiv. For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the “imperialist ambitions” of the Alliance, which seeks to assert its “hegemony”.
“Ukraine can count on us for as long as it takes,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, referring to a “moral and political obligation” for the Atlantic Alliance.
In a joint statement, the member countries of NATO, which have already supplied billions of dollars of weapons to kyiv, specified that they had agreed on a new aid plan involving the “delivery of non-lethal military equipment” and by strengthening Ukraine’s defenses against cyberattacks. “Russia’s appalling cruelty is causing immense human suffering and massive displacement,” they wrote, saying Moscow bore “full responsibility for this humanitarian catastrophe.” Announcements welcomed by the head of Ukrainian diplomacy, Dmytro Kouleba, who welcomed this “strong position” and “lucid” on Russia.
In response to statements by NATO leaders, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday denounced the “imperial ambitions” of NATO, which, according to him, seeks to assert its “hegemony” via the Ukrainian conflict. “The call for Ukraine to continue fighting and refuse negotiations only confirms our assumption that Ukraine and the good of the Ukrainian people is not the goal of the West and the NATO, but a way to defend their own interests,” he said at a press conference in Ashkhabad, the Turkmen capital.
The NATO summit enabled member countries of the Alliance to adopt a new strategic roadmap qualifying Russia as “the most significant and direct threat to the security of the allies”. “We cannot rule out the possibility of an attack on the sovereignty or territorial integrity” of one of the member countries, this document assures. This new roadmap – the previous one had not been revised since 2010 – also targets for the first time China which represents, according to NATO, a “challenge” for its “security”.
Displaying their unity, the countries validated a reinforcement of their military presence on the eastern flank of the Alliance, which will bring to more than 300,000 soldiers the manpower of its “high-readiness forces”. “This is the most important reorganization of our collective defense since the Cold War”, underlined Jens Stoltenberg. “We are there” and “we are proving that NATO is more necessary than ever”, insisted the American president. Joe Biden also announced a strengthening of the American military presence throughout Europe and in particular in the Baltic States.
The Madrid summit also made it possible to officially launch the process of joining Sweden and Finland, which decided to join NATO in reaction to the Russian offensive in Ukraine, breaking with a long tradition of non-alignment.
This membership has so far been blocked by Turkey, which accused Stockholm and Helsinki in particular of harboring militants of the Kurdish organization PKK, which Ankara considers “terrorist”. But after long negotiations, Ankara gave its agreement on Tuesday evening to the entry into NATO of the two Nordic countries, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan having estimated that he had obtained their “full cooperation” in his fight against the PKK.
This upcoming enlargement has angered Moscow. It is “a deeply destabilizing factor for international affairs”, said Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who denounced an “aggressive” movement towards Russia.
Vladimir Putin nevertheless indicated that he did not see “a problem” in a possible accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO. “We don’t have the problems with Sweden and Finland like we have with Ukraine,” he said.
On the ground, Ukraine continues to pay a heavy price for the war, with new deadly attacks against civilians, notably in Mikolaiv (south), where five people died in a strike on a residential building, according to regional authorities .
The bombings came two days after a strike that ripped through a crowded shopping mall in Kremenchuk, 330 kilometers southeast of kyiv, leaving at least 18 people dead and around 40 missing, according to the Ukrainian government. Vladimir Putin on Wednesday evening rejected the responsibility of his troops in this strike. “Our army does not hit any civilian infrastructure site,” he said. “Nobody shoots at us just like that, randomly. Normally, it’s done based on intelligence data on the targets” and with “high precision weapons”, he continued.
In Lyssytchansk, in eastern Ukraine, the “frequency” of Russian bombardments is “enormous”, estimated the governor of the Lugansk region, Serguiï Gaïdaï. “We are witnessing a peak of intensity in the fighting,” he continued on Ukrainian television.
In addition, the Ukrainian authorities announced that they had recovered 144 soldiers, including 95 “Azovstal defenders” in Mariupol, as part of the “largest exchange (of prisoners with Moscow) since the start of the Russian invasion”. In a video Wednesday evening, Volodymyr Zelensky also announced that he was ending diplomatic relations with Syria, after the regime in Damascus recognized the independence of the pro-Russian separatist republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, supported by Moscow since 2014.
British Defense Minister Ben Wallace said on Wednesday that Russia had “failed on all its major objectives” on the military level. The war has a “massive cost” for Moscow, he assured in an interview with LBC radio, estimating at “25,000” the number of Russian soldiers killed since the start of the conflict.
The British government also announced, during the NATO summit, its intention to release one billion pounds (1.16 billion euros) of additional aid to Ukraine to respond to the Russian invasion. The effort includes air defense systems and drones, and the new funds will bring British military aid to kyiv to 2.3 billion pounds, Downing Street said.
The bombardment on March 16 of the theater of Mariupol, in Ukraine, in which many civilians had taken refuge, is “clearly a war crime” Russian, affirms Thursday a report by Amnesty international, for which the number of victims is however much lower than feared.
“Until now, we were talking about an alleged war crime. Now we can clearly say that it was one, committed by the Russian armed forces,” Oksana Pokaltchouk, the director of AFP, told AFP. AI in Ukraine, during an interview in Paris.
Two explosions destroyed much of the theater, caused by “something very big: two 500-kilogram bombs” from an “air strike”, she continued. The nature of the damage invalidates, according to experts consulted by the NGO, the hypothesis put forward by Moscow of an explosion inside the site provoked by the Ukrainian forces.