Ukraine’s most stalwart backers in the West are promising there will be no let-up in support, despite increasingly tough talk from Russian officials.
The U.S. permanent representative to NATO said Wednesday in Washington that recent Russian gains in eastern Ukraine have failed to shake the alliance’s resolve, with members continuing to have faith in Kyiv’s forces.
“Collectively at NATO, I think we do hope and believe that Ukraine will ultimately prevail,” Julianne Smith told the Defense Writers Group.
“The level of … respect that you see across the alliance for Ukrainian forces right now is quite high,” Smith added. “We see moments where Russian forces advance. We see moments where Ukrainian forces are successfully able to push back.”
Smith’s comments come a day after Washington announced it would send more advanced weapons systems to Ukraine, including the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems known as HIMARS.
U.S. President Joe Biden defended the decision in an editorial piece in The New York Times late Tuesday, saying the advanced rocket systems will help Ukraine “to more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield.”
Ukrainian officials have been asking for such systems for weeks, saying they are needed to counter Russian artillery that has enabled Moscow’s gains in the Donbas region.
Russia Wednesday criticized the U.S. decision, accusing Washington of escalating tensions.
“We believe that the United States is purposefully and diligently adding fuel to the fire,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, during a visit to Saudi Arabia Wednesday, further called the move “a direct provocation, aimed at involving the West in military action.”
The U.S. ambassador to NATO rejected such concerns.
U.S. military aid to Ukraine has “all evolved and changed over the last couple of months, I think, quite naturally,” Smith said, adding the message to Kyiv about the parameters for that assistance “have remained relatively clear.”
“We are not in a position to support you with equipment that can attack Russian territory,” she said. “NATO allies are united that NATO will not become a party to this conflict.”
Separately, Smith welcomed overtures by Turkey to Russia to help forge a path toward peace talks in general and negotiations aimed at ending the Russian blockade of the Ukrainian port of Odesa, which has prevented the shipment of needed grain.
Smith also said NATO allies are not expecting much to come from Ankara’s efforts.
“We’re skeptical that at this juncture it’s going to lead to some sort of major breakthrough,” she said. “There’s no indication that Russia is taking any of this seriously or negotiating in good faith.”
Some information from Reuters was used in this report.