As fighting with Russia continued in the east, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday urged NATO to invite Kyiv to join the alliance and send more fighter aircraft and long-range weapons.
Zelensky spoke during NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg's first visit to Kyiv since the beginning of the Russian invasion in February 2022.
Ukraine argues that Russia's invasion justifies its campaign to join the alliance and expresses annoyance that the West has not provided it with assurances or a timetable for eventual membership.
According to Moscow, Ukraine's NATO membership proposal represents an existential threat.
Zelensky stated that a July NATO summit "could become historic" if Ukraine receives an official invitation to join.
"The time has come to make the proper decision," Zelensky stated at a press conference with Stoltenberg.
He stated, "The majority of people in NATO nations and the majority of Ukrainians support our country's membership in the alliance."
As Zelensky and Stoltenberg met in the capital, the situation for Ukrainian troops defending Bakhmut, a frontline flashpoint in eastern Ukraine, appeared to be deteriorating.
Zelensky requested assistance from NATO to "overcome the reluctance" of certain member states to provide long-range rockets, modern fighter aircraft, and armored vehicles.
Despite Ukraine's requests, NATO members have sent some Soviet-era fighter jets to Ukraine, but no contemporary aircraft, such as the US-designed F-16, has been promised.
Concerned that Ukraine could use long-range rockets to attack targets within Russia, Ukraine's Western supporters have been hesitant to dispatch long-range rockets.
'Infantry, Infantry, Infantry'
In the eastern Ukrainian region of Lugansk, AFP spotted a squad of soldiers using British-supplied artillery.
They labored on the dug-in artillery piece several kilometers away from Russian positions.
One brought projectiles from a nearby cache to the British-made gun, while others set coordinates and loaded the barrel before the command to "Fire!"
It was accompanied by an organ-rattling explosion and a cloud of smoke emanating from the dugout.
"There are planned objectives towards which we strive. "And some appear unexpectedly, such as to repel an attack when the enemy advances," said Bogdan, a 40-year-old Ukrainian soldier from the besieged city of Bakhmut.
"The adversary employs few military vehicles. Infantry, of which the enemy has plenty, advances," he stated.
“Meat. Infantry, infantry, infantry!" he exclaimed in response to the sound of Russian artillery returning fire on their position.
The Wagner mercenary organization is leading the Russian assault on Bakhmut.
The Kremlin, which has shown no sign of retreating, introduced a new law this month that significantly simplifies the mobilization of Russians into the army.
'Ensure Ukraine Prevails'
Stoltenberg stated that NATO would "ensure that Ukraine prevails" in its conflict with Russia.
"NATO stands with Ukraine today, tomorrow, and for as long as it takes," he stated in Kyiv.
However, he did not express any imminent interest in alliance membership.
"Let me be clear: Ukraine's rightful place is within the Euro-Atlantic family, within NATO," he stated.
Over time, our assistance will make this a reality.
He stated that the issue of membership would be "high on the agenda" at the NATO summit scheduled for Vilnius in July.
The visit of Stoltenberg occurred 14 months after Russia's invasion and before an anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Russia asserts that NATO's provision of military aid to Kyiv is evidence that the alliance and the United States are conducting a proxy war in Ukraine.
Thursday, the Kremlin stated that preventing Ukraine from entering the Western military alliance remains one of the invasion's primary objectives.
Otherwise, it will pose a grave threat to our nation's security, as the Kremlin states.
Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, claimed he had no option but to send troops into Ukraine to prevent it from joining NATO.
However, according to Western diplomats, Ukraine's membership remains a distant possibility.
According to the principle of collective defense, an attack on one member is deemed an attack on all.