Nato says Putin using 'winter as weapon of war' as it commits to future Ukraine membership

EU and US allies pledge millions to help Kyiv through the colder months

Nato's Jens Stoltenberg pledged to send more aid to Ukrainian forces locked in battle with Russian troops. AP
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Nato's chief has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of using winter as a “weapon of war” as he reiterated his commitment to allowing Ukraine to become a full member of the military alliance.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg made the comments during a two-day summit in Bucharest, Romania, which was attended by the bloc's foreign ministers, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The US announced it would provide $53 million to buy power grid equipment as members sought to find ways to help Ukraine through the difficult winter months.

Russia has been bombarding Ukraine's electricity transmission and heating infrastructure since October, in what Kyiv and its allies say is a deliberate campaign to harm civilians.

“President Putin is trying to use winter as a weapon of war,” Mr Stoltenberg told reporters.

“We stated that Ukraine will become a [Nato] member, I expect allies to reiterate that position,” he added.

“However, the main focus now is on supporting Ukraine. We are in the midst of a war and therefore we should do nothing that can undermine the unity of allies to provide military, humanitarian, financial support to Ukraine.”

In a joint statement, Nato ministers condemned Russia's “persistent and unconscionable attacks on Ukrainian civilian and energy infrastructure” and confirmed a 2008 decision that Ukraine will eventually join the alliance.

But it announced no concrete steps or timetable that would bring it closer to Nato.

During the meeting, Mr Blinken said that Nato was stronger and more united than at any time he could remember, and the alliance would be “reaffirming our support for Ukraine as we go forward”.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly accused Putin of targeting civilian and energy infrastructure “to try and freeze the Ukrainians into submission”.

Russia acknowledges attacking Ukrainian infrastructure but denies deliberately seeking to harm civilians.

The ministers focused on increasing assistance such as air defence systems and ammunition to Ukraine, as well as non-lethal aid including fuel, medical supplies, winter equipment and drone jammers, delivered through a Nato assistance package that allies can contribute to.

“We will continue and further step up political and practical support to Ukraine as it continues to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity … and will maintain our support for as long as necessary,” the ministers said in a statement on Tuesday after the first day of talks.

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Nato is also pushing arms manufacturers to accelerate production but a European diplomat said there were increasing problems with supply capacity.

“We need air defence, IRIS, Hawks, Patriots, and we need transformers [for our energy needs],” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters on the sidelines of the Nato meeting, enumerating various Western air defence systems.

“If we have transformers and generators, we can restore our energy needs. If we have air defence systems, we can protect from the next Russian missile strikes. In a nutshell: Patriots and transformers are what Ukraine needs the most.”

Highlighting the view from Baltic states, which have been at the forefront of supporting Kyiv, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis urged the alliance to press ahead with deliveries of tanks, saying Nato had plenty of them to spare.

“My message to fellow foreign ministers at today's Nato meeting is simple: Keep calm and give tanks,” he said on Twitter, showing an image of a Ukrainian flag with a tank in the middle.

The ministers were joined by Finland and Sweden, as they look to secure full Nato membership pending ratification of their bids by Turkey and Hungary.

A Nato statement said: “Their accession will make them safer, Nato stronger, and the Euro-Atlantic area more secure. Their security is of direct importance to the Alliance, including during the accession process.”

Updated: November 30, 2022, 7:26 AM