NATO, G7, EU raise stakes for Russia, pledge new aid for Ukraine

Western leaders promise more military and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine, but pledges fall short of Kyiv’s calls for a no-fly zone and an embargo on Russian oil.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks with Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg before a G7 leaders' family photo during a NATO summit on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium
US President Joe Biden, centre, speaks with leaders of allied countries before a G7 leaders' family photo during a NATO summit on Russia's invasion of Ukraine in Brussels, Belgium March 24, 2022 [Henry Nicholls/Pool via Reuters]

Western leaders have unveiled new sanctions against Russia and pledged more humanitarian assistance for Ukraine following triple summits of NATO, the Group of Seven nations, and the European Union in Brussels.

But their offers on Thursday fell short of the more robust military assistance that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said was necessary for his country’s military to fight off invading Russian troops.

During the unprecedented trio of summits, the United States and the United Kingdom promised to expand their sanctions against Russia, while US President Joe Biden announced that his country would welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainians and provide an additional $1bn in food, medicine, water and other supplies.

Canada and Finland pledged to step up weapons supplies to Ukraine, while NATO leaders agreed to send equipment to Ukraine to help it protect it against a chemical weapons attack.

Biden also issued a stark warning to Russia that any such attack “would trigger a response in kind”.

The US president said the “single most important thing” for the West and its allies was to stay unified against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Why I asked for this NATO meeting today is to be sure that, after a month, we will sustain what we’re doing,” the US leader told reporters. “Not just next month, the following month, but for the remainder of this entire year. That’s what will stop him.”

The Russian invasion, which Putin calls a “special operation”, has killed thousands of people, sent 3.6 million abroad and driven more than half of Ukraine’s children from their homes, according to the United Nations.

But a month into the offensive, Russia has failed to capture any big Ukrainian cities.

‘One percent of all your planes’

Western nations have provided Ukraine with billions of dollars of military hardware, and a US official, who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, told The Associated Press news agency that the leaders were discussing the possibility of providing anti-ship weapons amid concerns that Russia will launch amphibious assaults along the Black Sea coast.

However, the support pledges fell short of satisfying Zelenskyy’s calls for a no-fly zone over Ukraine where Moscow’s bombs are wreaking havoc, as well as a full boycott of Russian energy.

The Ukrainian leader, while thankful for the newly promised help, made clear to the Western allies he needed far more than they are currently willing to give.

“One percent of all your planes, 1 percent of all your tanks,” Zelenskyy asked members of the NATO alliance. “We can’t just buy those. When we will have all this, it will give us, just like you, 100 percent security.”

But Western leaders said they must tread carefully so as to ensure the conflict does not spread beyond the borders of Ukraine, with French President Emmanuel Macron saying NATO has decided to “intensify our ongoing work to prevent any escalation and to get organised in case there is an escalation”.

As part of that effort, NATO leaders agreed to set up new combat units in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia. The alliance has already beefed up its eastern flank to 40,000 soldiers spread from the Baltic to the Black Sea.

“Our measures remain preventive, proportionate, and non-escalatory,” the alliance said in a statement, calling the Russian invasion “the gravest threat to Euro-Atlantic security in decades” and urging Putin to immediately end the war and withdraw his troops from Ukraine.

At the European Council and G7 meetings, leaders issued similar denunciations of Russia’s actions, condemning what they called “war crimes” committed by Russian forces in Ukraine and pledging coordinated support for Kyiv.

Energy security

But European leaders again stopped short of applying measures against Russian gas supplies, fearing the consequences for their own energy security – Moscow supplies 40 percent of the EU’s collective gas needs and more than a quarter of its oil imports.

“We are not at war with ourselves,” said Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. “Sanctions must always have a much bigger impact on the Russian side than on ours.”

His position reflected that of EU nations like Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, which are running up against other member states situated closer to Russia that want tougher action now.

“As long as we are purchasing energy from Russia, we are financing the war, and this is the big problem that we have,” Finland Prime Minister Sanna Marin told the European Council.

She was joined by Baltic leaders in demanding swift action.

“We have to continue to isolate Putin’s economy – Russia’s economy – to stop the money flowing into the war machine,” Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins told reporters. “The most logical place to move forward is in oil and coal.”

Amid the European dilemma, Canada, a member of G7, announced it will boost oil and gas exports to help its allies wean themselves off Russian energy.

The US and the EU are also set to unveil a deal in which Washington is pledging to deliver at least 15 billion cubic metres (bcm) more liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe this year than planned before, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The US has already banned Russian energy.

The latest sanctions it announced on Thursday target 300 members of the country’s parliament along with defence contractors.

The US also said it will work with other Western nations to ensure gold reserves held by Russia’s central bank are subject to existing sanctions.

The UK’s latest sanctions target 65 more Russian businesses and individuals, including a woman London said was Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s stepdaughter.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies