Russian President Vladimir Putin is “weaponizing winter” as Moscow continues its bombing campaign on Ukrainian energy infrastructure, NATO’s secretary general says.
With winter settling in, Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on Tuesday that it is critical for the military alliance to support Ukraine and help rebuild its energy infrastructure as a wave of Russian attacks have repeatedly knocked out power supplies and heating for millions of Ukrainians.
“It is extremely important that President Putin is not able to win in Ukraine. That will be a tragedy for Ukraine, but it will also make the world more dangerous and also more vulnerable. It’s in the security interests of allies to support Ukraine,” he said following a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Bucharest, Romania.
“We are all shocked by the indiscriminate attacks on Ukrainian cities, on Ukrainian infrastructure. We see that President Putin is trying to deprive Ukrainians of water, electricity, heating, lights. President Putin is using winter as a weapon. He is weaponizing winter, and that is just making it more important to support Ukraine.”
The two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Bucharest is likely to see the 30-nation alliance make fresh pledges of non-lethal support to Ukraine: fuel, generators, medical supplies and winter equipment, on top of new military support. On Nov. 16, Canada announced it was sending winter gear to Ukrainian troops, including portable heaters, thermal blankets and sleeping bags. The United States included generators as part of a US$400-million aid package for Ukraine announced on Nov. 23.
Following Tuesday’s meeting, NATO foreign ministers said in a joint statement they will be there to help Ukraine rebuild its infrastructure.
“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,” it said.
Russia has launched massive aerial attacks against Ukraine’s power grid and other infrastructure since Oct. 10. As a result, Ukraine could face rolling blackouts through March because the airstrikes have caused “colossal” damage to the power grid, officials have said.
To cope in the harsh winter – which typically sees temperatures below freezing – authorities are urging Ukrainians to stock up on supplies and evacuate hard-hit areas.
“This winter will be life-threatening for millions of people in Ukraine,” warned Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe, on Nov. 22.
Meanwhile, the battle for terrain, while slowed due to the weather, has continued. Ukrainian forces have been pressing with a counteroffensive despite Moscow’s troops keeping up artillery shelling and missile strikes.
Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign affairs minister, also addressed reporters. He said Ukraine has been grateful for NATO’s support, but asked for help to come faster.
“We proved that we can defeat Russia. We proved that we can win together in the interests of the entire Euro-Atlantic space and the world, as you rightly mentioned,” he said.
“But decisions on weapons, decisions on launching new production lines of weapons in western countries, they have to be made faster, and deliveries of weapons have to be done faster.”
Kuleba made a pitch for increased air defences and noted that aside from military aid, non-lethal aid such as transformers and generators are now essential. Though Kuleba attended the NATO meeting, Ukraine is not a member of the military alliance. Ukraine said in October it was formally applying for a fast-track membership to NATO.
“When we have transformers and generators, we can restore our system, our energy grid and provide people with decent living conditions, which President Putin is trying to deprive them of,” he said.
“When we have air defence systems, we will be able to protect this infrastructure from the next Russian missile strikes, and they are definitely to come. Unfortunately, this is the reality that we have to prepare for.”
Canadian government officials have pledged to stay steadfast in support of Ukraine. To date, Ottawa says it has provided more than $600 million in military support to Ukraine since February, including armoured vehicles, artillery and ammunition, drone cameras and winter clothing.
— with files from The Associated Press and Reuters