BRUSSELS — Faced with the prospect that the war in Ukraine will be long and grueling, NATO nations are divided on how best to handle the next stage of the conflict and the uncertain period that promises to follow.
Central European members like Poland and the Baltic states want a full break with Moscow and an effort to bring Russia to its knees, two senior Western officials have said. They fear that anything Russia presents as a victory will seriously damage European security.
But other nations believe that Russia cannot be easily subdued and that the outcome of the war is likely to be messy – a ceasefire more exhausting than a resounding victory. Countries like France, Germany and Turkey want to maintain contact with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin regardless of allegations of war crimes committed by his troops, officials said.
NATO foreign ministers, meeting this week to discuss how to help Ukraine continue the war, agree on one major point: the war is far from over and – however badly that the Russian forces have done and despite their withdrawal from areas around Kyiv, the capital — they are advancing slowly and brutally in eastern Ukraine.
“Moscow is not giving up on its ambitions in Ukraine,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said this week. “We are now seeing a major movement of troops away from Kyiv, to regroup, rearm and resupply. And they are shifting their focus to the east.
It will take several weeks, officials say, as Russian troops return to Belarus to be resupplied and reorganized, then have to fight their way with their equipment through Russia into eastern Ukraine.
“In the coming weeks, we expect another Russian push into eastern and southern Ukraine in an attempt to take all of Donbass and create a land bridge to occupied Crimea,” Stoltenberg said. . “This is a crucial phase of the war.”
In response to the scenes of corpses at Bucha, the United States and the European Union are preparing new sanctions against Russia, but without much expectation that they will hasten the end of the war.
But at NATO meetings, we will talk about weapons and equipment, not about sanctions.
There is general agreement that Russia is no longer a strategic partner of the alliance, that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is no longer bound by the troop limits of the NATO Founding Act -Russia of 1997 and that its military posture must be strongly reinforced to deter a conflictual Russia, as long as Mr. Putin and his allies retain power there.
There is also a commitment to continue helping Ukraine – about two-thirds of NATO members have already provided lethal weapons, including the Czechs’ contribution of tanks and armored personnel carriers. soviet era.
But some stocks are running out in the West – US-made Javelin anti-tank missiles, for example. And Ukraine will also need different weaponry for the next phase of the war in the east, officials suggest, including longer-range artillery and more sophisticated armed drones, if they hope to repel the attacks. Russians, let alone drive them out of Ukraine. .
The amount of material arriving in Ukraine remains a secret, but officials say the overall flow is very large and has made a huge difference in the war. But what kinds of weapons are most useful and how to think about the possible conclusion of the war are of concern to the leaders of the alliance.
“On a number of fronts, we obviously have changing dynamics on the battlefield,” US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who is in Brussels for NATO meetings, told reporters this week.
Mr Blinken said the NATO meetings would focus on new ways to support Ukraine and “put pressure on Russia” and Mr Putin. More evidence of atrocities is likely to emerge, he said on Wednesday, as Russia retreats from territories it controls, “like a receding tide”.
On Tuesday, Mr Blinken announced an additional $100 million worth of weapons and equipment from US stockpiles. Total U.S. military assistance to Ukraine stands at about $2.4 billion since President Biden took office and more than $1.7 billion since the war began on February 24, did he declare.
Russo-Ukrainian War: Main Developments
How the war could finally end is an important question not only for Ukraine but for the entire alliance.
US officials doubt Russia is ready to make any real concessions in the ongoing peace talks with Ukraine, although they are not ruling out the possibility and want to secure kyiv’s influence in the negotiations.
This is a key discussion. While Ukraine will decide for itself how and when to try to end the war and what it will negotiate with Moscow, President Volodymyr Zelensky and his government have regular discussions with the leaders of NATO countries, including the Americans.
“We believe our job is to support Ukrainians,” Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, said this week. “We are not going to define the outcome of this for the Ukrainians.”
Some countries, particularly in Central Europe and notably Britain, fear that any form of Russian expansion into Ukrainian territory, let alone a Russian victory, will embolden Mr Putin, undermining European security and values. global ones such as adherence to international law, respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity. They want Russia to be seen as the loser.
Even if the war ends with a new line of contact between Russian and Ukrainian forces, NATO aims to work with kyiv to make Ukraine indigestible to Russia, as another senior Western official has said. It’s about arming and training the Ukrainians so well that Mr. Putin wouldn’t want to try again.
Foreign Ministers will also begin a more in-depth discussion on NATO’s new Strategic Concept, the first since 2010, which is currently in draft form. It is much tougher on Russia and provides for a longer period of confrontation and costly deterrence.
Matina Stevis-Gridneff contributed report.