BRUSSELS, Belgium – Western leaders showcased their unity against Russia’s war in Ukraine on Thursday, March 24, with Washington seeking more military aid for Kyiv, NATO assigning more troops to its eastern flank and London imposing fresh sanctions against Moscow.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called on NATO, EU, and G7 countries all meeting in Brussels on Thursday to help Kyiv fight the invasion, which has killed thousands and driven a quarter of Ukraine’s 44 million people from their homes.
“We agreed to strengthen our deterrence and defence for the longer-term. We also agreed to give further support to Ukraine and to continue to impose costs on Russia,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said after the leaders gathered at the Western military alliance’s headquarters.
NATO, which has already massively increased its presence on its eastern borders since the start of the war, with some 40,000 troops spread from the Baltic to the Black Sea, agreed on Thursday to set up four new combat units in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia. More jets will be deployed, it added.
The United States and its allies are also working on supporting Ukraine with anti-ship missiles, a senior US administration official said as US President Joe Biden took part in the closed-door session.
“The mood overall has been sober, it’s been resolute and it’s been incredibly united,” the official said of the atmosphere at the summit meeting.
NATO said in a statement its continued support to Ukraine, would include helping protect it against potential chemical, biological or nuclear attacks.
NATO has, however, rejected repeated pleas by Kyiv to defend Ukraine’s skies from Russian air strikes, and Zelenskiy – who joined the NATO summit through a video call – has complained the West had not provided tanks or modern anti-missile systems.
NATO would also not send troops or planes to Ukraine, Stoltenberg reiterated, as the alliance extended his mandate for a year until the end of September, 2023.
“NATO has yet to show what the alliance can do to save people,” Zelenskiy told the summit, adding he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to attack eastern NATO members – Poland and the Baltic states – as well.
Putin says his “special military operation” is meant to demilitarize and “denazify” Ukraine. Ukraine and the West say Putin launched an unprovoked war of aggression.
Sanctions & energy
A NATO official estimated that up to 15,000 Russian troops have been killed in Ukraine so far and a total of up to 40,000 have been killed, wounded, taken prisoner or are missing.
The month-long land, sea and air assault has hit residential areas, schools and hospitals in Ukrainian cities including
Kharkiv and the beseiged port of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.
Russia denies targeting civilians.
Britain on Thursday imposed sanctions on another wave of Russia’s lenders including Gazprombank and Alfa Bank, as well as a woman London said was the stepdaughter of Sergei Lavrov, Putin’s veteran foreign minister.
“Putin has already crossed the red line into barbarism,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, adding: “The harder our sanctions … the more we can do to help Ukraine … the faster this thing can be over.”
Johnson told LBC radio earlier that one option was to see if more can be done to prevent the Russian president from accessing his gold reserves, which could stop people buying Russian gold to convert it into hard currency.
The resolve to punish Moscow with massive sanctions will also be underlined by an emergency meeting of the G7 advanced economies, which will bring Japan into the room with six NATO members, also in Brussels on Thursday.
The G7 and the EU will make clear any transaction involving gold related to the Russian central bank is covered by existing sanctions in a move aimed at stopping Russia from evading the penalties, the senior US official said.
Then, with a summit of the 27-nation European Union, countries representing more than half of the world’s gross domestic product will have met in one day.
“Paralyze Putin’s war machine. Oil and gas are at its heart,” Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said. “We should
set up a special third-party account to prevent revenues from going towards financing the war.”
The EU – which says it has already taken in some 3.6 million refugees from Ukraine – is only very slowly moving away from Russian gas and still depends on Moscow for a large share of its energy needs.
Energy has largely been omitted from sanctions, the biggest loophole in measures that have otherwise frozen Russia out of world commerce to a degree never attempted before on such a large economy.
EU leaders are expected to agree at their summit to jointly buy gas, and Brussels also hopes for a deal with Biden to secure additional US liquefied natural gas supplies. – Rappler.com