Recruits of the Spartan storm brigade of the Ukrainian National Guard practice at the unit’s base, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in the Kharkiv region, Ukraine.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday that Ukraine deserves to be in U.S.-led NATO, the West’s main military alliance and his stance drew an immediate protest from Russia.
In his first visit to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion 14 months ago, Stoltenberg said at a news conference, “Let me be clear, Ukraine’s rightful place is in the Euro-Atlantic family. Ukraine’s rightful place is in NATO.”
Stoltenberg said he and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy discussed a NATO support program to help Kyiv “transition from Soviet-era equipment and doctrines to NATO standards and ensure full interoperability with the alliance. NATO stands with you today, tomorrow and for as long as it takes.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said preventing neighboring Ukraine from joining the 31-nation NATO alliance remains one of the goals of Russia’s invasion. He said Ukrainian membership in NATO would pose a “serious, significant threat to our country, to our country’s security.”
Earlier this month, Finland, with a 1,300-kilometer border with Russia, set aside decades of neutrality and joined NATO, with neighboring Sweden also looking to join the alliance in the next few months.