NATO discusses more military support for Ukraine

Combat engineers inspect a damaged Russian tank installed as a symbol of war in central Kyiv, Ukraine, June 15, 2023. [AP Photo]

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday the war in Ukraine demonstrates the need to stand with Ukraine and continue to provide support.

Stoltenberg told reporters as he arrived at NATO headquarters that after launching its long-expected counteroffensive, Ukraine has made gains and liberated occupied land from Russian forces during fierce fighting.

Later, U.S. General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff, echoed that assessment, telling reporters in Brussels that Ukraine is "making progress," while acknowledging, "It's a very difficult fight. It's a very bloody fight."

Milley said Russian troop morale "is not high" and that Moscow's troop leadership is lacking.

Stoltenberg said Kyiv's advances are "due to the courage, the bravery, the skills of the Ukrainian soldiers, but it also highlights and demonstrates that the support NATO allies have been giving to Ukraine for many, many months actually makes a difference on the battlefield."

He noted that the more successful Ukraine is at this stage, the more pressure it will put on Russian President Vladimir Putin to come to the negotiating table and give Ukraine a stronger hand in peace talks.

Stoltenberg said if allies want enduring peace in Ukraine, they must continue providing Ukrainian forces with military support.

Also on Thursday, gunfire briefly stopped a U.N. convoy as it returned to Ukrainian-held territory following its visit to the Russia-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station.

NATO sends reinforcements, U.S. puts troops on alert as Ukraine tensions rise

The convoy, led by Rafael Grossi, the general director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, was not in immediate danger, and no one was hurt, a spokesman for IAEA told Reuters.

The Russian state news outlet Tass cited Renat Karchaa, an adviser to the head of the Rosenergoatom company, as accusing Ukraine of opening fire on the U.N. convoy. Tass did not provide evidence to back up the claim.

The convoy returned safely to Ukrainian-held territory.

The U.S.-led Ukraine Contact Group, meanwhile, held its latest session Thursday in Brussels to discuss military assistance for Ukraine ahead of the meeting of NATO defense chiefs.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at the opening of the meeting that the fight in Ukraine "is a marathon, and not a sprint."

"We will continue to provide Ukraine with the urgent capabilities that it needs to meet this moment as well as what it needs to keep itself secure for the long term from Russian aggression," Austin said.

He highlighted the need to provide Ukrainian forces with air defense systems that are critical in protecting Ukrainian civilians from Russia's aerial attacks.

"The Kremlin's imperial ambitions have inflicted unimaginable suffering on the Ukrainian people, yet the Ukrainians continue to inspire us with their resilience, their bravery, and their unwavering commitment to keep their country free and secure," Austin said.

After the meeting, Austin said, "This will continue to be a tough fight, as we anticipated. We continue to push forward for what Ukraine needs."

Norway and Denmark announced a joint effort to provide thousands of artillery rounds to Ukraine.

"Ukraine has an urgent need for artillery ammunition. We have therefore decided to join forces with Denmark for a new donation, so that Ukraine receives the ammunition as quickly as possible," Norway's defense minister, Bjorn Arild Gram, said in a statement.

Ukraine's military said Thursday it intercepted a Russian cruise missile as well as 20 explosive drones launched by Russia.

In Russian-controlled Crimea, Russian officials said their side downed nine Ukrainian drones.