NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the military alliance is committing to future Ukrainian membership into the security organisation.

Stoltenberg’s remarks came as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his NATO counterparts were gathered in Romania to drum up urgently needed support for Ukraine.
Stoltenberg’s remarks came as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his NATO counterparts were gathered in Romania to drum up urgently needed support for Ukraine. (Reuters)

Russian President Vladimir Putin wants “to use winter as a weapon of war” in his campaign in Ukraine, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has said in Bucharest ahead of a meeting of the alliance’s foreign ministers.

“We have to be prepared for more refugees crossing into the rest of Europe, as a result of Russia’s deliberate attack on critical services, heating, light, water, gas in Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said on Tuesday.

Stoltenberg’s remarks came as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his NATO counterparts were gathered in Romania to drum up urgently needed support for Ukraine aimed at ensuring that Moscow fails to defeat the country as it bombards energy infrastructure.

“NATO’s door is open. Russia does not have a veto on countries joining,” Stoltenberg said in reference to the recent entry of North Macedonia and Montenegro into the security alliance. 

He said that Russian President Vladimir Putin “will get Finland and Sweden as NATO members” soon. The Nordic neighbours applied for membership in April, concerned that Russia might target them next.

“We stand by that, too, on membership for Ukraine,” the former Norwegian prime minister said.

READ MORE: Has Ukraine conflict left the alliance divided?

In essence, Stoltenberg repeated a vow made by NATO leaders in Bucharest in 2008 — in the same sprawling Palace of the Parliament where the foreign ministers are meeting this week — that Ukraine, and also Georgia, would join the alliance one day.

Some officials and analysts believe this move — pressed on the NATO allies by former US President George W Bush — was partly responsible for the war that Russia launched on Ukraine in February. 

Stoltenberg, however, disagreed. “President Putin cannot deny sovereign nations to make their own sovereign decisions that are not a threat to Russia,” he said. “I think what he’s afraid of is democracy and freedom, and that’s the main challenge for him.”

More US aid

During the two-day meeting, US officials said Secretary Blinken will announce substantial American aid for Ukraine’s energy grid. Ukraine’s network has been battered countrywide since early October by targeted Russian strikes, in what US officials call a Russian campaign to weaponise the coming winter cold.

“We are all paying a price for Russia’s war against Ukraine. But the price we pay is in money,” Stoltenberg said, adding: “While the price Ukrainians pay is a price paid in blood.”

The meeting in Romania — which shares NATO’s longest land border with Ukraine — is likely to see NATO make fresh pledges of non-lethal support to Ukraine: fuel, generators, medical supplies, winter equipment and drone-jamming devices.

Individual allies are also likely to announce fresh supplies of military equipment for Ukraine — chiefly the air defence systems that Kiev so desperately seeks to protect its skies — but NATO, as an organisation, will not, to avoid being dragged into a wider war with Russia.

The ministers will hold a working dinner with their Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, on Tuesday evening.

READ MORE: Russia could have joined NATO. But why didn't they do it?

Source: TRTWorld and agencies