With no peace in sight, NATO countries eye more Ukraine help

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A Ukrainian serviceman of 12 aviation brigade sits inside an Mi-8 combat helicopter before flight during a combat mission in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, Sunday, April 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Alex Babenko)

KYIV – Ukraine’s Western allies have sent the country 65 billion euros ($70 billion) in military aid to help thwart Russia’s full-scale invasion, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday, and with no peace negotiations on the horizon the alliance is gearing up to send more.

“We cannot allow Russia to continue to chip away at European security,” Stoltenberg told a news conference in Brussels, adding “there are no signs that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is preparing for peace. He is preparing for more war.”

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NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Tuesday “will discuss how we can step up our support, including by continuing to strengthen Ukraine’s armed forces,” Stoltenberg said. “Our support is for the long-haul.”

Analysts suspect Putin plans to dig in and hold out against a possible Ukraine counteroffensive in the coming months, hoping that the West’s costly support for Kyiv will unravel.

Putin’s invasion in February 2022 backfired in key respects. It led NATO to deploy more troops and weapons into the territories of its members in Eastern Europe and persuaded Sweden and Finland to scrap their neutrality and seek NATO membership.

Finland will formally join the alliance on Tuesday, Stoltenberg said.

The war has also bound together more tightly foreign leaders viewed by Putin as adversaries.

In a fresh example of the closer ties that Ukraine is forging, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is to head to Warsaw on Wednesday for a meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda. Polish authorities announced the visit Monday in an unusually early disclosure of the Ukrainian leader’s travel plans.

Against a backdrop of fears among Russia’s other neighbors about the Kremlin’s ambitions, the leaders of Germany, Romania and Moldova were due Monday to look at ways of shoring up defenses along NATO’s eastern flank.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was meeting in Bucharest with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis and Moldovan President Maia Sandu. Their talks were expected to focus on security, the economy and energy supply.

Meanwhile, German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck, who is also the economy minister and responsible for energy, arrived in Kyiv on Monday on an unannounced visit. He traveled with a business delegation that included the head of Germany’s main industry lobby group, the Federation of German Industries.

Habeck said the trip was meant to send a clear signal “that we believe they will be victorious, that they will be rebuilt, that there is an interest on Europe’s part not just to support them in an emergency, but in Ukraine being an economically strong partner in the future.”

Zelenskyy and Habeck visited the village of Yahidne — 140 kilometers (87 miles) north of Kyiv. Zelenskyy stopped at the Yahidne secondary school, in whose basement Russian occupiers forcibly kept 367 Ukrainian civilians for 27 days in March of last year. Eleven people died in the dark, crowded basement.

Possible sabotage and assassinations behind the front lines continued. A Moscow-appointed official was seriously injured when his car exploded in the Russia-controlled southern city of Melitopol early Monday, according to the Moscow-appointed regional administration. Maxim Zubarev, the former head of the village of Antonovka, was hospitalized in grave condition.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, where much of the fighting has taken place in recent months, six civilians were killed in a Russian rocket strike on the town of Kostiantynivka, Ukraine’s presidential office said.

Four more civilians were killed in the northern Chernihiv region when their vehicles hit land mines, underscoring the perils of living in the war zone. The head of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, on Monday visited Chernihiv city, where parts of the historic center were damaged during a siege by Russian forces in late February of last year.

“Intentional destruction of cultural heritage is a crime,” Azoulay said after visiting a former movie theater that was partially destroyed.

Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said a spell of cold weather has worsened the civilians’ plight.

“Freezing temperatures and snow make life unbearable for civilians. They have to survive in damp basements without power and communications and can only occasionally get out to warm themselves around a campfire,” Kyrylenko said in televised remarks.

“The Russians never run out of ammunition, equipment and personnel whom they use as cannon fodder to keep trying to storm cities.”

In other developments:

—Russia transferred to Ukraine 12 prisoners, including five seriously injured Ukrainian soldiers, officials said. Some had fought in Bakhmut, the biggest focus of the war in recent months and the scene of some of its bloodiest battles. On March 24, Ukraine had turned over five seriously hurt Russian prisoners. Such transfers are a rare example of cooperation between Ukraine and Russia.

—International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi will visit Kaliningrad, Russia, on Wednesday as part of his efforts to ensure the protection of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power plant, IAEA spokesman Fredrik Dahl said. Grossi will meet Russian officials as a follow-up to his visit last week to the Zaporizhzhia station, whose six reactors are shut down.


Associated Press Writer Yuras Karmanau in Tallinn, Estonia, and Mstyslav Chernov in Chernihiv, Ukraine, contributed to this report. ___

Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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