Putin underestimated Ukrainian courage when invading Ukraine last year - Stoltenberg

  • 2023-07-13
  • LETA/TBT Staff

VILNIUS - When Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine last year, he underestimated the courage of the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian forces and the perseverance of the Ukrainian political leadership, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stressed at a joint press conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Vilnius.

He also said that Russia underestimated NATO's unity and strength - the Alliance will support Ukraine for as long as necessary. Stoltenberg also noted that NATO allies have supported Ukraine with tens of billions of dollars over the past year and that NATO members agreed on a package during the summit that will bring Ukraine closer to NATO.

"This will be a multi-year program of practical assistance, the establishment of a NATO-Ukraine Council and a reaffirmation that Ukraine will become a NATO member state by abandoning the NATO Membership Action Plan," Stoltenberg stressed, adding that the new multi-year assistance program will help Ukraine make the transition from the Soviet era to compatibility with NATO standards and equipment by ensuring that Ukrainian forces are compatible with NATO forces.

The NATO Secretary General affirmed that Ukraine has become closer to NATO than ever before. NATO Allies have confirmed that Ukraine is becoming a NATO member and agreed to waive the requirement for a NATO Membership Action Plan.

"This will change Ukraine's path to NATO membership from a two-step process to a one-step process. And we will invite Ukraine to join the alliance when NATO members agree that Ukraine has met the conditions," Stoltenberg said.

Zelensky noted that Ukraine currently lacks security, while cooperation with NATO partners at the summit will reduce the security deficit. The Ukrainian President underlined that Ukraine is and will continue to invest in common security. He also pointed out that the withdrawal from the Action Plan for Ukraine's NATO membership is important.

"I know how many negotiations there have been to reach such an agreement. We have come a long way to make Ukraine compatible with NATO, our soldiers have a good experience in cooperation with NATO. They have shown the ability to use weapons, proving that global democracy is much stronger than terrorist attacks," said Zelensky.

He noted that even in the midst of war, Ukraine continues to reform and to move forward in the process of integration into the European Union. Ukraine has clearly defined what it needs to do and is doing it, which is why the President welcomes the decision that Ukraine will not need a NATO Membership Action Plan on its path to NATO.

He welcomed the willingness of Ukraine's partners to help and support Ukraine, but Ukraine is fighting for survival. Zelensky noted that some partners are afraid to talk about Ukraine's NATO membership because no one wants another world war.

"This is logical and understandable. I want everyone to understand that we are civilized and adequate people. Ukraine is fighting. We do understand that as long as the war in Ukraine continues, Ukraine cannot be a member of NATO. This is very clear, but the announcements about Ukraine becoming a member of the Alliance are important signals," said the Ukrainian President.

"I believe that we need NATO as much as the Alliance needs us. I am convinced that after the war Ukraine will be in NATO. We will do everything we can to make that happen," said Zelensky.

When asked at a press conference what military support he expects from the administration of US President Joe Biden and whether there will be talks on the cluster munitions the US has promised Ukraine, the Ukrainian President thanked Biden, the US Congress and the US people for their support and assistance to Ukraine.

He pointed out that the US and Ukraine tend to have minor disagreements and that the decision to supply cluster munitions to Ukraine was a challenge for the US because there are people who do not support such a move. Zelensky called for a different perspective on the issue: Russia is constantly using cluster munitions in Ukraine, killing people. The Russians also regularly use long-range missiles.

"US assistance would only be used against military targets, only against occupied territories. It would not be used in other circumstances. This is about justice. The aggressor has occupied and continues to occupy parts of our territory for nine years and is killing our people. How can we defend ourselves?" the Ukrainian President asked rhetorically.

He stressed that Ukraine defends itself and does not use weapons against another country. Zelensky stressed that Ukraine still needs long-range missiles.