- NATO calls Russia ‘the most significant and direct threat’
- Says more weapons are in preparation for “heroic” Ukraine
- They could be next, Zelenskyj tells NATO leaders
- Russian missile attacks across Ukraine are increasing
- The battle for the eastern city of Lysychansk continues
JUNE (Reuters) – NATO on Wednesday branded Russia as the “most direct threat” to allied security after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and vowed to modernize besieged Ukraine’s military, saying it stands in “heroism” with Kyiv . defense of their country”.
At the conclusion of a summit dominated by the geopolitical upheaval caused by the invasion, NATO formally invited Sweden and Finland to join the alliance, pledging to reinforce combat-ready and rapid-deployment forces on their eastern flank, closest to Russia.
President Joe Biden announced additional US land, air and sea operations across Europe, including first a permanent army headquarters with an accompanying battalion in Poland
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Full-time US deployment on NATO’s eastern edge.
As NATO’s 30 national leaders met in Madrid, Russian forces stepped up attacks in Ukraine, including rocket attacks on the southern Mykolaiv region near the front lines.
The mayor of the city of Mykolaiv said a Russian missile killed at least three people in an apartment building there, while Moscow said its troops hit a so-called training base for foreign mercenaries in the region.
The governor of eastern Luhansk province reported “fighting everywhere” in the battle for the hilltop town of Lysyhansk, which Russian troops are attempting to encircle as they attempt to conquer all of heavily industrialized eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reiterated to NATO leaders that Kyiv needs more weapons and money, and faster, to counter Russia’s vast firepower advantage, and warned that the Kremlin’s ambitions would not stop at Ukraine.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba later praised NATO’s “clear stance” towards Russia, adding: “An equally strong and active position towards Ukraine will help protect Euro-Atlantic security and stability.”
A NATO communiqué called Russia the “most significant and direct threat to allies’ security and stability,” a nod to the precipitous deterioration in relations with Russia — formerly classified as a “strategic partner” — since the invasion.
NATO agreed on a support package to modernize Ukraine’s military. “We stand in full solidarity with the government and people of Ukraine in the heroic defense of their country,” the communiqué said.
“We are sending a strong message to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin: ‘You will not win,'” said Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who hosted the summit.
The US-led alliance said it would also deploy more “robust combat-ready forces on the ground” on its eastern flank, scaling up from existing battlegroups to brigade-size units.
Ahead of the summit, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced that the alliance plans to increase the number of troops on high alert sevenfold to more than 700,000.
Zelenskyi said in a video link with NATO that Ukraine needs $5 billion a month for its defense and protection.
“This is not a war that Russia is only waging against Ukraine. This is a war for the right to dictate conditions in Europe – for what the future world order will be like,” he said.
Biden said the new US deployment plans include sending additional warships to Spain, fighter jet squadrons to Britain, ground forces to Romania, air defense units to Germany and Italy, and a number of assets to the Baltic states. Continue reading
NATO’s invitation to Sweden and Finland to join the bloc represents one of the most significant shifts in European security in decades, as Helsinki and Stockholm abandoned a tradition of neutrality in response to the Russian invasion. Continue reading
Russia has long complained about a perceived expansion of western blocs towards its borders. But its push into Ukraine – which it describes as a “military special operation” against Russian security threats – has brought renewed momentum and unity to NATO.
Ukraine and its Western backers accuse Russia of an unprovoked and imperial land grab in Ukraine.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said NATO expansion is “destabilizing” and will not improve the security of its members.
Russia’s stepped-up attacks in Ukraine – after a missile attack on a shopping center in a central city killed at least 18 people on Monday – come as Kremlin forces make slow but relentless advances in a war now in its fifth month .
Still, Western analysts say the Russians are suffering heavy casualties and depleting resources, while the prospect of more Western weapons reaching Ukraine, including long-range missile systems, makes Moscow’s need to cement any gains even more urgent.
In Mykolaiv, Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych said eight Russian rockets hit the city, including a block of flats. Photos showed smoke billowing from a four-story building, the top floor of which was partially destroyed.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said its forces carried out attacks on a military training base for “foreign mercenaries” near the city and also hit ammunition dumps. Reuters could not independently verify the reports.
Mykolaiv, a river port and shipbuilding center right on the Black Sea, was a bastion against Russian efforts to push west toward Ukraine’s main port, Odessa.
Mykolayiv regional governor Vitaliy Kim said Russian shelling had increased and mainly civilian buildings were hit. “It’s dangerous now in Mykolayiv, more dangerous than three weeks ago,” he said.
Oleksander Vilkul, governor of Kryvyi Rih in central Ukraine, said Russian shelling had increased there too.
Also on Wednesday, two days after the rocket attack, rescue workers searched for dozens of missing people in the Kremenchuk shopping center.
Moscow has denied attacking the mall and said it hit a nearby weapons depot, which exploded. Continue reading
Britain’s MoD said Russia was likely to continue launching major strikes to hamper Ukrainian supplies to the front lines and that more civilian casualties were likely.
Russia has denied intentionally attacking civilian areas, but the United Nations says at least 4,700 civilians were killed during the invasion. Ukraine believes the true civilian casualty figure is many times higher.
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Reporting by Reuters bureaus; writing by Stephen Coates, Angus MacSwan and Mark Heinrich; Adaptation by Peter Graff, Frank Jack Daniel and Gareth Jones
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