NATO allies on Tuesday said they would help Ukraine repair energy infrastructure heavily damaged by Moscow’s shelling, in what the alliance’s head said was Russia using the cold weather as “a weapon of war”.
The United States announced it would provide $53 million to buy power grid equipment.
“This equipment will be rapidly delivered to Ukraine on an emergency basis to help Ukrainians persevere through the winter,” a State Department statement said, adding that the package would include distribution transformers, circuit breakers and surge arresters among other equipment.
NATO foreign ministers meeting in the Romanian capital Bucharest also confirmed a 2008 NATO summit decision that Ukraine would eventually become a member of the alliance. But, as in 2008, there were no concrete steps or timetable that would actually bring the country closer to NATO.
“We stated that Ukraine will become a member, I expect allies to reiterate that position,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at the start of the two-day meeting.
“However, the main focus now is on supporting Ukraine. We are in the midst of a war and therefore we should do nothing that can undermine the unity of allies to provide military, humanitarian, financial support to Ukraine.”
Russia has been carrying out huge attacks on Ukraine’s electricity transmission and heating infrastructure roughly weekly since October, in what Kyiv and its allies say is a deliberate campaign to harm civilians, a war crime.
“President Putin is trying to use winter as a weapon of war,” Stoltenberg told reporters.
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly accused Putin of targeting civilian and energy infrastructure “to try and freeze the Ukrainians into submission”.
Russia acknowledges attacking Ukrainian infrastructure but denies deliberately seeking to harm civilians.
The ministers focused on increasing assistance such as air defence systems and ammunition to Ukraine as well as non-lethal aid including fuel, medical supplies, winter equipment and drone jammers, delivered through a NATO assistance package that allies can contribute to.
“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,” the ministers said in a statement on Tuesday after the first day of talks.
NATO is also pushing arms manufacturers to accelerate production but a European diplomat said there were increasing problems with supply capacity.
Highlighting the view from Baltic states, which have been at the forefront of supporting Kyiv, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis urged the alliance to press ahead with deliveries of tanks, saying NATO had plenty of them to spare.
“My message to fellow foreign ministers at today’s NATO meeting is simple: Keep calm and give tanks,” he said on Twitter, showing an image of a Ukrainian flag with a tank in the middle.
The ministers were joined by Finland and Sweden, as they look to secure full NATO membership pending ratification of their bid by Turkey and Hungary.
“Their accession will make them safer, NATO stronger, and the Euro-Atlantic area more secure. Their security is of direct importance to the Alliance, including during the accession process,” the NATO statement said.