By Gabriela Baczynska and Don Durfee
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Ukraine urgently needs air defenses, including ammunition, spare parts and maintenance for the systems the Ukrainian military already has, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told Reuters on Tuesday.
Stoltenberg said the war, now well into its second year, was a “war of attrition” but not a stalemate, given the gains Ukraine has made with a counteroffensive it began in June to try to reclaim territory occupied by Russian forces.
“If we want an end to the war, if we want a just and lasting peace, then military support to Ukraine is the right way,” said Stoltenberg in an interview while in New York for the annual high-level United Nations General Assembly. “Ukraine needs many different types of support.”
“There is an urgent need for air defense, not only new systems, but also ammunition, maintenance, spare parts … We see that air defense is saving lives every day in Ukraine and we need to sustain the air defense systems of Ukraine.”
He spoke after a senior State Department official said earlier on Tuesday that reinforcing Ukraine’s air defenses was key, including to protect critical infrastructure as winter descends.
Stoltenberg declined to say how many rounds of munitions NATO allies can deliver to Ukraine each year, or when exactly F-16s would be delivered to Kyiv.
“Allies are working hard to train (F-16 pilots) as fast as possible,” he said. “The importance of the F-16s is also that it sends a message of long-term and enduring support.”
“We are ready for the long haul. Not because we are able to predict exactly how long this war will last, but because we need to send a message that President Putin cannot wait us out.”
Russian leader Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of neighbor Ukraine in February 2022 in what he calls a “special military operation” to degrade the Ukrainian military and remove what Russia says is a potential threat against its own security.
Stoltenberg said he would have preferred to see faster progress in Ukraine’s counteroffensive but said its gains in the south and the east were still “enormous”.
Ukrainian officials have said that their forces have pressed past Russia’s first line of defenses but now face further lines in places where Moscow has had time to build up fortifications and minefields.
Some military analysts have said Ukraine could struggle to sustain its momentum on the battlefield with the onset of cold and wet weather, but Stoltenberg said fighting could also continue in the fall and through the winter.
“What we need to continue to do is to support Ukrainians and then they have to make the decisions on the ground,” he said. “War of attrition becomes a war of logistics.”
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska and Don Durfee; editing by Grant McCool)