05 July 2024

Nato will vow to keep pouring weapons into Ukraine, but membership off table

05 July 2024

Nato leaders plan to pledge next week to keep pouring arms and ammunition into Ukraine at current levels for at least another year, hoping to reassure the war-ravaged country of their ongoing support and show Russian President Vladimir Putin that they will not walk away.

US President Joe Biden and his counterparts meet in Washington for a three-day summit beginning on Tuesday to mark the military alliance’s 75th anniversary as Russian troops press their advantage along Ukraine’s eastern front in the third year of the war.

Speaking to reporters Friday, Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Nato’s 32 member countries have been spending around 40 billion euros (£33.8 billion) each year on military equipment for Ukraine since the war began in February 2022 and that this should be “a minimum baseline” going forward.

“I expect allies will decide at the summit to sustain this level within the next year,” Mr Stoltenberg said.

He said the amount would be shared among nations based on their economic growth and that the leaders will review the figure when they meet again in 2025.

Nato is desperate to do more for Ukraine but is struggling to find new ways.

Already, Nato allies provide 99% of the military support it gets.

Soon, the alliance will manage equipment deliveries.

But two red lines remain: no Nato membership until the war is over, and no Nato boots on the ground there.

At their last summit, Nato leaders agreed to fast-track Ukraine’s membership process — although the country is unlikely to join for many years — and set up a high-level body for emergency consultations.

Several countries promised more military equipment.

A year on, they want to put on a fresh display of unity and resolve, even as uncertainty over elections roils many of the organisation’s biggest members.

The possible return of Donald Trump, who undermined trust among the allies while he was the U.S. president, is a particular concern.

But governments in France and Germany also were weakened in elections this year.

Italy is led by a prime minister whose party has neo-fascist roots, while an anti-immigrant party heads a shaky coalition in the Netherlands and Spain’s Cabinet relies on small parties to rule.

Whoever might be in power though, it’s become clear that there’s not a lot more that Nato can do.

Lately, Mr Stoltenberg has insisted on a long-term commitment to Ukraine.

Major funding delays, notably due to political wrangling in the US Congress, have left the country’s armed forces, in his words, “to defend themselves with one hand tied on the back”.

He had hoped the allies would agree to spend at least 40 billion euros annually on weapons in a “major, multi-year” programme.

It does not mean an increase in support, though.

The figure roughly equals what they have already spent each year since the war began.

One new initiative the leaders are likely to endorse is a mission to get the right military equipment into Ukraine and streamline training for its armed forces.

In their haste to help, Western backers have inundated Ukraine with all kinds of weapons and materiel.

In the early chaos of war, anything was welcome, but the deliveries have become unmanageable — a multitude of different kinds of vehicles or defence systems that require distinct maintenance plans and dedicated supply chains to keep them running.

Offers of training programs outside Ukraine have also been abundant, indeed so prolific and different that its armed forces struggle to prioritise which troops to send, to what Nato country, and for how long.

“We’ve let a thousand flowers bloom,” conceded a senior US State Department official, but added that with a new mission, probably based in Wiesbaden, Germany, and under the likely leadership of a US general, “Nato can come in and say: We’ve got it.”

The official requested anonymity to discuss plans that had not been finalised.

Mr Stoltenberg said he and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky agreed earlier this month that the new steps the leaders will take “constitute a bridge to Nato membership and a very strong package for Ukraine at the summit”.

Membership would protect Ukraine against a giant neighbour that annexed its Crimean Peninsula a decade ago and more recently seized vast swaths of land in the east and south.

Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg takes part in an interview in Ottawa, Ontario (Sean Kilpatrick/AP) (AP)

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