Monday. 04.03.2024

NATO has activated its defences against chemical and nuclear weapons as concerns mount that Russia might use such weapons in Ukraine, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday as Western leaders met to further punish Russia for the invasion now in its second month.

Speaking after an extraordinary NATO summit in Brussels that coincided with G7 and European Council summits, Stoltenberg said the 30 leaders of the defence alliance had agreed to send Ukraine "detection, protection, and medical supplies, as well as training for decontamination and crisis management."

"So we are taking measures both to support Ukraine and also to defend ourselves," Stoltenberg said.

NATO is concerned that Russia may attempt to create a "pretext" for the tactical use of such weapons in the war, for example by accusing Kiev or other nations of working on chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, Stoltenberg said.

Asked to give details about how these "defence elements" would protect NATO members, a military source said a battalion-sized force comprising around 400 soldiers trained to prevent and deal with the use of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons would be put on high alert.

Allies from NATO, the EU and G7 countries are holding talks in the Belgian capital to decide how to respond to and end Russia's assault on its neighbour, which began exactly a month ago on Thursday.

Russia, which says it is threatened by any eastward expansion of NATO, has described its war in Ukraine as a "special military operation" with the aim of "getting rid of the military potential of Ukraine."

Zelensky requests tanks and jets

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed NATO leaders during the summit, criticizing the alliance for not imposing a no-fly zone over his country. He repeated requests for deliveries of tanks and jets.

Zelensky also told NATO leaders that Russia had used phosphorus bombs in Ukraine. Stoltenberg later declined to comment on the claim.

During the NATO talks, both the US and Britain announced new sanctions packages designed to deter Russia from continuing its war.

The US measures target more than 400 people and entities including Russian oligarchs, politicians and defence companies in connection with the invasion of Ukraine.

A White House official also said the US is to admit 100,000 refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine and provide more than $1 billion (€909m) in humanitarian assistance to the country, a White House official said.

Russian central bank transactions involving gold will be subject to Western sanctions, according to a senior US official, as the US and its allies seek to make sure Russia doesn't use trade in gold to escape sanctions.

The official said there are concerns Russia is selling its gold reserves to buy up roubles and supports its currency, which has been ailing since multiple nations imposed sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

Wagner group

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new sanctions that included punitive measures against the paramilitary Wagner Group – seen as Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s private army.

The British Foreign Office said it was sanctioning 65 additional entities and individuals, including Russian billionaire Eugene Shvidler and Galina Danilchenko, who was installed by Moscow as the mayor of occupied Melitopol in south-eastern Ukraine.

As the NATO talks were reaching their close, the alliance announced that Stoltenberg would remain its secretary general for an additional year due to the war in Ukraine. His current term at NATO expires on September 30.

US President Joe Biden is to later join EU leaders for talks to discuss US support for the European Union as it seeks to end its dependency on Russian energy imports.

The EU summit is also expected to decide on a solidarity fund that will be used to rebuild Ukraine after the end of the war.

EU member states make up a majority of NATO with 21 members. Germany, France and Italy are also members of the G7 group of industrialized democracies.

NATO activates nuclear defences as West tightens screws on Russia