Blinken: 'No fatigue' in NATO support of Ukraine


US Secretary of State Antony Blinken addresses civic and labor associations representatives during a meeting with Civic and Labour Associations. [David Gichuru, Standard]

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday there is "strong bipartisan support" for Ukraine in the United States and "no sense of fatigue" among NATO allies continuing their support as the country enters its second winter of war against Russia.

"Some are questioning whether the United States and other NATO allies should continue to stand with Ukraine as we enter the second winter of Putin's brutality. But the answer here today at NATO is clear, and it is unwavering. We must and we will continue to support Ukraine," Blinken said during a press conference in Brussels on Wednesday.

Since the war began, the United States has provided about $77 billion in assistance to Ukraine, which includes humanitarian, financial and military aid, according to Blinken. He noted that Washington's European allies have provided more than $110 billion in support of Kyiv.

"I heard no sense of fatigue or falling back; on the contrary, there was a determination to continue pressing forward," Blinken added when asked about potential political changes as the U.S. faces a presidential election in November 2024.

The day before, a senior State Department official said that it is "a widely shared premise" that Russian President Vladimir Putin "won't make a meaningful peace" before the results of the U.S. presidential election in 2024.

'Ultimate membership'

Ukraine's path to NATO membership was discussed during Wednesday's first foreign minister-level meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council. Blinken also held separate talks with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

The top U.S. diplomat said the allies reaffirmed their policy that "Ukraine will become a member of NATO when all allies agree and when conditions are met."

Kuleba stated that Ukraine's call to increase the production of weapons and ammunition resonates among NATO Allies.

"I have no doubts that, after this meeting, there will be specific moves and actions to put our political will into real action in the area of defense industries," said the Ukrainian top diplomat.

In a separate press conference, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the member state laid out recommendations to Ukraine's reforms.

"Ukraine is closer to NATO than ever before. We will continue to support them on the path to membership and will continue to support Ukraine's fight for freedom," Stoltenberg told reporters at NATO headquarters.

The United States is hosting the next NATO summit in Washington from July 9 to 11, 2024. Blinken discussed priorities for the meeting with his counterparts as the alliance celebrates its 75th anniversary next year.

A senior U.S. official told reporters that a significant portion of the discussions leading up to the Washington summit would aim to ensure that Ukraine is making the necessary progress toward "ultimate membership" in NATO "when conditions are right."

The bloc's member states have suggested to Ukraine "a set of governance reforms," including strengthening anti-corruption agencies and authorities.

The NATO-Ukraine Council was inaugurated at the NATO Summit in Vilnius on July 12, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other heads of member governments also in attendance.

It convened for the second time in late July to discuss Black Sea security following Russia's withdrawal from a deal overseeing grain exports from Ukrainian ports.

The third meeting was held in October to discuss substantial assistance to Ukraine and to ensure Ukraine's forces are fully interoperable with NATO.

The NATO-Ukraine Council is the joint body where allies and Ukraine sit as equal participants to advance political dialogue.

North Macedonia

Wednesday afternoon, Blinken led the U.S. delegation to NATO member North Macedonia, which on Thursday is hosting a two-day meeting of foreign ministers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe — also known as the OSCE — in its capital, Skopje.

Blinken said he is supporting OSCE's "determination" to "advance European security," despite "Russia's flagrant violations."

Blinken held talks with North Macedonia Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani before heading to the Middle East later in the evening.

Osmani condemned Russian aggression in Ukraine, stating that it has threatened "the very existence" of the regional security body, which North Macedonia currently chairs.

He emphasized that no business could proceed as usual under such conditions. In this week's OSCE foreign ministers' meetings, the focus will be "100% on Ukraine," turning the security organization into "a platform for political and legal accountability of the Russian Federation for its atrocities in Ukraine."

Earlier this week, Bulgaria gave permission for Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's plane to cross its airspace en route to Skopje following North Macedonia's request, allowing him to attend the OSCE ministerial meetings.

This sparked an immediate outcry from Ukraine and the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, who are boycotting the gathering due to Lavrov's expected attendance.

Lavrov had not arrived in Skopje when foreign ministers from OSCE members took a group photo. Neither was there a place-setting for Russia at the OSCE working dinner on Wednesday evening.

After Skopje, Blinken makes his third trip to the Middle East since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7. The U.S. is seeking an extension of the Israel-Hamas truce to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza and getting more hostages released.