Jens Stoltenberg visits Kyiv, declares 'Ukraine's rightful place is in NATO'

Alliance on cusp of second major expansion nearly seven months after Ukraine applied for entry

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday declared that Ukraine's "rightful place" is in the military alliance as he visited Kyiv for the first time since Russia's invasion. Photo courtesy NATO
1 of 3 | NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday declared that Ukraine's "rightful place" is in the military alliance as he visited Kyiv for the first time since Russia's invasion. Photo courtesy NATO

April 20 (UPI) -- NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg set the stage Thursday for Ukraine to join the international military alliance during his first visit to Kyiv since Russia invaded more than a year ago.

"Let me be clear: Ukraine's rightful place is in the Euro-Atlantic family," Stoltenberg declared during a joint news conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. "Ukraine's rightful place is in NATO. And over time, our support will help you to make this possible."


Ukraine applied to join NATO in late September, with Zelensky pushing for an "accelerated procedure" to gain membership in the alliance.

During their sit-down Thursday, Stoltenberg invited Zelensky to attend the next NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, in July.

After the meeting, Zelensky said Stoltenberg's visit to Ukraine had opened "a new ambitious chapter" in the emerging partnership -- adding that he was "grateful for the invitation" to attend the conference, which had the potential to become "historic" if Ukraine gained official entry.


"There is not a single objective barrier to the political decision to invite Ukraine into the alliance and now, when most people in NATO countries and the majority of Ukrainians support NATO accession, is the time for the corresponding decisions."

Zelensky said he urged Stoltenberg to push back against some resistance among the body's member states to supply modern fighter jets and other weaponry that would help Ukraine hold ground in the war.

He also said he would seek further assurances from the organization on regional security but did not go into detail.

The prospect of Ukraine joining the organization comes as Finland officially became a member of the global body earlier this month, expanding the alliance to 31 countries and delivering a severe blow to Moscow by doubling NATO's shared border with Russia.

Days ago the Finnish Border Guard also announced the construction of a 1.8-mile border fence along the nation's eastern border with Russia, which is expected to be completed in June. The fence will eventually cover 15% of Finland's 800-mile border with Russia.

Ukraine was also preparing to launch another major counteroffensive inside the country in response to continued bombardments by Russian forces.

Stoltenberg paid tribute to fallen Ukrainian soldiers and reviewed damaged Russian military equipment before pledging to continue to support Ukraine militarily "for as long as it takes."


Since the war began in Feb. 2022, NATO allies have provided more than $71 billion in military assistance and have trained tens of thousands of Ukrainian troops.

Zelensky in October praised the leaders of nine European nations who supported Ukraine's NATO bid and issued a statement declaring they could no longer "stay silent in the face of the blatant violation of international law by the Russian Federation."

Zelensky has maintained that Russia would have expanded its invasion into Poland, Moldova, Georgia and Kazakhstan if Ukraine had not been so successful in defending itself.

In light of the expanding NATO alliance, the Kremlin recently acknowledged it had become deeply concerned about its national security -- especially along its western border -- while Russian President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials have been turning up pressure on its global allies for increased support.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov kicked off a five-day tour of Latin America in Brazil this week, with plans to hold meetings through Friday with his diplomatic counterparts in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba.

Diplomatic experts say Russia is seeking to shore up alliances after suffering devastating losses in the war, including the deaths of tens of thousands of soldiers.


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