NATO leaders, holding an emergency meeting in Brussels Thursday, heard a punchy, frustrated appeal from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksy for “effective and unrestricted” support for his embattled country.
He restated his plea — made over and over since the onset of the war with Russia — for a no-fly zone to prevent air and missile attacks on civilian targets.
“The Ukrainian army has been resisting for a month in unequal conditions,” Zelensky said. “And I have been repeating the same thing for a month now. To save people and our cities, Ukraine needs military assistance — without restrictions. As without restrictions, Russia is using its entire arsenal against us.”
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Zelensky asks for more tanks, aircraft
Zelensky vastly expanded the request for military equipment to include aircraft and tanks, noting that even a donation of one per cent of NATO’s stock of armored vehicles would make a difference to his beleaguered forces.
NATO, he said, has a chance “to show that this is truly the most powerful defense association in the world” and warned that the world is watching.
“And Ukraine is very much waiting — awaiting real action, real security guarantees from those whose word is trustworthy, and whose actions can keep the peace,” he said in a video address, a transcript of which was released by his office.
“Truly. All offers are on the table. Our needs are on the table. We need peace immediately. The answers are up to you.”
The answer—at least publicly—was muted. NATO committed to sending protective equipment for chemical, biological and nuclear hazards. It also promised training for Ukrainians in how to handle it.
Stoltenberg refused to talk about anything else the alliance might do.
“What we do is we are delivering a lot of equipment. And that is [an] answer. But i will not go into the details because I don’t think that is wise for operational reasons,” he said.
Russia has used Kyiv’s ambition to join NATO as a pretext to launch its invasion. Despite being on the path to membership for almost 14 years, many alliance member nations have said Ukraine has not yet met all of the conditions to join, something Zelensky punched back against Thursday.
“After such a war against Russia … please, never, never tell us that our army does not meet NATO standards,” he said.
Zelensky calls for worldwide protests
The meeting of the Western alliance’s leaders, including US President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, comes one month into Russia’s invasion of its neighbour, which has upended decades of European security. The meeting of 30 alliance members was followed immediately by a G7 meeting.
In a separate video address late Wednesday, Zelnsky urged people around the world to protest the ongoing war.
“Come to your squares, your streets. Make yourselves visible and heard,” Zelensky said in English during the emotional video that was recorded near the presidential offices in Kyiv. “Say that people matter. Freedom matters. Peace matters. Ukraine matters.”
WATCH | Ukrainian president appeals to people around the world to protest:
Senior commanders, speaking on background Wednesday, were reluctant to describe the battle in Ukraine as a stalemate, but did say that the Russian offensive has slowed considerably and the Ukrainians have been successful in some limited counter-offensives.
They estimated that between 7,000 and 15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed with another possible 25,000 wounded.
There is the fear the war could drag on, as conflicts in Syria and elsewhere have done.
Will NATO unity last?
Christian Leuprecht, a professor at the Royal Military College of Canada, said NATO has done very well in the aftermath of the invasion in terms of unity, but he’s concerned about the effects of a long war and how that might be an advantage for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Putin has been surprised by the resilience, but I think there’s a risk that that resolve will crumble if this conflict drags on for months, or possibly years,” said Leuprecht.
“I think, a risk that NATO will lose, not NATO, per se, but the member populations will lose interest, especially once they see the bill for this coming in.”
As he arrived for the meeting, Trudeau said: “NATO and partners around the world are united in condemning and standing up to Russia.”
The alliance announced on Wednesday that it was forming four new battle groups in eastern Europe nations — Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria — to bolster defenses along Russia’s border.
Leuprecht said the nucleus of each new formation has been there for a while, but NATO has been reluctant to activate them for fear of antagonizing Putin.
WATCH | Analyzing NATO’s response to Russian aggression: