As Russia intensified its grinding offensive in eastern Ukraine the head of NATO fears the war could go on for years.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s comments come hot on the heels of the EU executive recommending that Kyiv should be officially recognised as a candidate to join the bloc.
Interviewed by Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper, Stoltenberg was quoted as saying the supply of state-of-the-art weaponry to Ukrainian troops would increase the chance of liberating the eastern Donbas region from Russian control.
“We must prepare for the fact that it could take years. We must not let up in supporting Ukraine,” he said.
“Even if the costs are high, not only for military support, also because of rising energy and food prices.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who visited Kyiv on Friday, made similar comments about the need to prepare for a long war in an op-ed for London’s Sunday Times.
Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Mr Johnson stressed the need to avoid “Ukraine fatigue” and noted that with Russian forces gaining ground “inch by inch” it was vital for Ukraine’s friends to demonstrate their long-term support.
In the op-ed, he said this meant ensuring “Ukraine receives weapons, equipment, ammunition and training more rapidly than the invader”.
EU candidate status
Ukraine received a significant boost on Friday when the European Commission recommended it be granted EU candidate status, something European Union countries are expected to endorse at a summit this week.
This would put Ukraine on course to realise an aspiration seen as out of reach before Russia’s February 24 invasion, even if actual membership could take years.
On Ukraine’s battlefields Russian attacks intensified. Sievierodonetsk, a prime target in Moscow’s offensive to seize full control of the eastern region of Luhansk, was again under heavy artillery and rocket fire as Russian forces attacked areas outside the industrial city, the Ukrainian military said.
The Ukrainian armed forces’ general staff admitted its forces had suffered a setback in Metolkine, just to the southeast of Sievierodonetsk.
“As a result of artillery fire and an assault, the enemy has partial success in the village of Metolkine, trying to gain a foothold,” it said in a Facebook post late on Saturday.
Russia’s Tass news agency, citing a source working for Russian-backed separatists, said many Ukrainian fighters had surrendered in Metolkine.
To the northwest, several Russian missiles hit a gasworks in Izium district, and Russian rockets rained down on a suburb of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, hitting a municipal building and starting a fire in a block of flats, but causing no casualties, Ukrainian authorities said.
Missiles and artillery
Ukrainian authorities also reported shelling of locations further west in Poltava and Dnipropetrovsk, and on Saturday they said three Russian missiles destroyed a fuel storage depot in the town of Novomoskovsk, wounding 11 people.
The Ukrainian armed forces’ general staff said Russian troops on a reconnaissance mission near the town of Krasnopillya had been beaten back with heavy casualties on Saturday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, whose defiance has inspired Ukrainians and won him global respect, said in a Telegram post on Saturday he had visited soldiers on the southern front line in the Mykolaiv region.
“Our brave men and women. Each one of them is working flat out,” he said. “We will definitely hold out! We will definitely win!”
Zelenskiy’s office said he had also visited National Guard positions in the southern region of Odesa to the west of Mykolaiv.
Zelenskiy has remained mostly in Kyiv since Russia invaded Ukraine, although in recent weeks he has made unannounced visits to Kharkiv and two eastern cities close to where battles are being fought.
One of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stated goals when he ordered his troops into Ukraine was to halt the eastward expansion of the NATO alliance and keep Moscow’s southern neighbour outside of the West’s sphere of influence.
But the war has had the opposite effect – convincing Finland and Sweden to seek to join NATO – and helping to pave the way for Ukraine’s EU membership bid.