BUCHAREST — Western officials from the NATO military alliance and beyond pledged Tuesday to help Ukraine repair and defend critical energy infrastructure amid Russia’s weaponization of cold weather and Ukrainian calls for faster assistance.
Moscow’s bombardment of key infrastructure across Ukraine has raised fears about how civilians will cope with freezing temperatures this winter.
But the Kremlin’s tactics have also presented a new set of challenges for Ukraine’s partners.
Many Western governments want to help Kyiv rebuild infrastructure, but there is a risk that Russia could simply target the sites a second time after they have been repaired. At the same time, some spare parts to help repair Ukrainian systems are hard to find.
And while providing Ukraine with more air defenses has become a key priority for Western governments, there is a recognition that in such a large country, not all infrastructure can be protected.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “is trying to weaponize winter — to force Ukrainians to freeze or flee,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday in Bucharest, where the alliance’s foreign ministers are gathering this week, along with representatives of Finland and Sweden, which have been invited to join the alliance.
“Today, allies made additional pledges to NATO’s Comprehensive Assistance Package for Ukraine,” Stoltenberg announced. The initiative, he said, will provide funding for “urgent non-lethal support, including fuel and generators, helping Ukraine to address the consequences of Russia’s strikes against their power grid.”
In a joint statement, NATO’s foreign ministers said the alliance “will maintain our support for as long as necessary.”
Allies, they said, “will assist Ukraine as it repairs its energy infrastructure and protects its people from missile attacks.”
The issue was also front and center at a meeting of foreign ministers in an expanded G7 format on the sidelines of the NATO discussions, with over 20 countries — including Ukraine — participating.
The ministers “discussed the situation of critical energy infrastructure in Ukraine in order to better understand and prioritize the most urgent needs of the Ukrainian people and to coordinate assistance efforts,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said in a statement.
But officials acknowledged the complexity of tackling the damage caused by Russia’s campaign.
There is a need to help Ukraine “to repair and to replace what has been damaged,” NATO chief Stoltenberg said.
But, he added, it is also necessary to support Kyiv as it seeks “to shoot down incoming drones and missiles.”
“That’s the best way,” Stoltenberg said, “to protect Ukrainians against these attacks and to ensure that President Putin doesn’t succeed in trying to weaponize winter.”
Ukraine’s leadership, meanwhile, has urged partners to move more quickly.
“At NATO ministerial in Bucharest I thank allies for their assistance and urge: faster, faster, faster,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted.
“Faster provision and production of weapons for Ukraine. Faster delivery of assistance to restore our energy system,” he said.
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