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NATO pledges more heavy weapons for Ukraine

Ukraine must get more NATO heavy weapons, the military bloc’s head said on Tuesday, ahead of a meeting of the US-led ‘contact group’ to discuss the logistics of that undertaking. NATO is trying to adapt to the “constantly changing” demands from Kiev, according to the US envoy to the alliance. 

“Ukraine should have more heavy weapons and NATO allies and partners have provided heavy weapons … and they are also stepping up,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday in The Hague, where he met with leaders of seven member countries ahead of the NATO summit scheduled for the end of June.

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“In terms of weaponry, we stand united here that it is crucial for Russia to lose the war,” said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who hosted the meeting. “And as we cannot have a direct confrontation between NATO troops and Russia, what we need to do is make sure that Ukraine can fight that war, that it has access to all the necessary weaponry.”

Romanian President Klaus Johannis, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, Belgian PM Alexander De Croo, Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki, Portuguese PM Antonio Costa, and Latvian PM Krisjanis Karins also attended the meeting in the Netherlands. Stoltenberg previously visited Sweden and Finland, which have applied to join NATO but will most likely not be formally invited to the June 29-30 summit in Madrid, due to Turkish objections.

READ MORE: US to send heavy guided missiles to Ukraine

Meanwhile, US Permanent Representative to NATO Julianne Smith was reported as saying that NATO countries are trying to adapt to Kiev’s demands for additional weapons, which are constantly changing.

According to the Pentagon, initial efforts to supply Ukraine focused on portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, but are now shifting to tanks and heavy artillery due to the nature of the current fighting in Donbass.

Mikhail Podolyak, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, has said that Kiev urgently needs 1,000 howitzers, 300 multiple-launch rocket systems, 500 tanks, 2,000 armored vehicles, and 1,000 drones. 

While the US has pledged only four HIMARS rocket launchers, the Pentagon’s policy chief, Colin Kahl, on Tuesday revealed that they would be supplied with heavy guided missiles, with a range of 70 kilometers. 

Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has arrived in Brussels, where he will chair the meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group to discuss how to best supply Kiev. According to an unnamed US official quoted by the Pentagon’s news release, “Ukrainians know themselves best what they’re dealing with, and we actively seek their information on the battlefield conditions.”

“Generally, we take their assessment as reliable and valid,” the official added.

READ MORE: Ukraine keeps US in the dark on military operations – NYT

Russia attacked the neighboring state in late February, following Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, first signed in 2014, and Moscow’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German- and French-brokered Minsk Protocol was designed to give the breakaway regions special status within the Ukrainian state.

The Kremlin has since demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.

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