LIVE — NATO chief speaks after talks on ammunition, Ukraine

Stoltenberg said earlier that it was urgent to provide Ukraine with more weapons to stop Russia’s “spring offensive.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg appeared before the press after the alliance’s defense ministers gathered in Brussels for a second day on Wednesday.

The gathering included discussions on Finland and Sweden’s membership bids, support for Ukraine and NATO’s attempts to stock up on weapons and ammunition.

“It is almost one year since Russia launched its full-fledged invasion of Ukraine, the biggest conflict in Europe since World War II,” said Stoltenberg. “We see no signs that Russia is preparing for peace, on the contrary, Russia is launching new offensives.”

He welcomed new pledges of support from NATO allies, including heavy hardware and training, citing this as critical.

“Ukraine has a window of opportunity to tip the balance and time is of the essence.”

Ahead of the NATO allies’ second day of talks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had urged quicker arms deliveries, adding that Russia was in a hurry to maximize gains before supporters can bolster Ukraine against a renewed onslaught.

German defense minister backs higher NATO spending pledge

Germany’s Boris Pistorius earlier said NATO countries should consider going above the defense spending threshold of 2% of gross domestic product (GDP).

“Just spending 2% will not be enough. It must be the basis for everything that follows,” Pistorius told reporters.

Pistorius was sharing the assessment of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg — that 2% should be a “lower limit” in the future. However, the defense minister said this had yet to be fully agreed upon as Berlin’s official position.

“The German government is debating that right now and will soon reach an agreement,” Pistorius said.

What was discussed in Brussels?

NATO defense ministers were debating how to adapt the 2% spending target, and whether it was sufficient given the war raging in Ukraine.

Heads of government were expected to make that decision at a NATO summit in Lithuania in July.

In talks on Wednesday, the allies spoke about ensuring that Ukrainian forces had the ammunition and hardware necessary to push back against renewed Russian offensives.

“We will provide the Ukrainians with the means to hold out and advance during the spring counter-offensive,” said US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. Although he mentioned artillery, anti-aircraft defenses, and armor, Austin did not include combat aircraft.

Zelenskyy on Tuesday said Ukraine needed help rapidly, with Russia seeking to maximize its gains on the battlefield before Ukraine could be resupplied.

“That is why speed is of the essence,” Zelenskyy said. “Speed in everything — adopting decisions, carrying out decisions, shipping supplies, training. Speed saves people’s lives.”

The ministers also discuss membership bids by Finland and Sweden and the protection of critical underwater infrastructure after the alleged acts of sabotage on the Nord Stream natural gas pipelines.

Germany’s position on military spending

Germany spends significantly less than 2% on defense, with the figure for 2022 placed at 1.44%. Germany has long resisted pressure from the United States and other allies to raise its defense spending to 2% of GDP per year on defense, a commitment to which all NATO members agreed in 2006 but which Germany has yet to honor.

At their Wales summit in 2014, NATO leaders had further agreed to spend at least 2% of their GDP within a decade, in reaction to Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula Crimea.

The coalition leading center-left Social Democrats — to which both Pistorius and Chancellor Olaf Scholz belong — have long been opposed to higher defense spending in Germany. The position was informed in large part by Germany’s history of aggression during the 20th century.

However, Scholz pledged to increase resources to the military in response to the Russian attack on Ukraine in February last year.

rc/fb (dpa, AFP, Reuters, AP)

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