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NATO defense ministers to meet as fighting in eastern Ukraine indicates start of Russian offensive

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. (U.S. State Department photo/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

NATO defense ministers are to begin a two-day meeting in Brussels on February 14 after a gathering in Germany of the so-called Ramstein group composed of dozens of countries that have been providing arms to Kyiv.

The Ramstein group is expected to discuss possible further military aid as Ukraine calls for its allies to provide fighter jets and long-range missiles. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the issue of aircraft is to be discussed at the NATO meeting, in which Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov will take part.

Stoltenberg on February 13 backed reports from local officials that a major new Russian offensive had begun. He said the Western military alliance saw “no sign whatsoever” that Russian President Vladimir Putin is preparing for peace.

“What we see is President Putin and Russia still wanting to control Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said. “We see how they are sending more troops, more weapons, more capabilities.”

Kyiv has been anticipating a much broader offensive that could not only target the Donbas regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in the east, but also the Kharkhiv region in the northeast and Zaporizhzhya in the southeast.

“The reality is we have seen the start [of a Russian offensive] already because we see now what Russia does now — President Putin does now — is to send thousands and thousands more troops, accepting a very high rate of casualty,” Stoltenberg said.

Russian forces have been engaged in an offensive in eastern Ukraine for months as they try to capture strategic towns and cities, including the battered city of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, which endured heavy artillery fire on February 13.

Capturing Bakhmut would give Russian forces a new foothold in the Donetsk region and a rare victory after several months of setbacks.

In his comments on February 13, Stoltenberg said NATO would increase targets for the stockpiling of ammunition as Kyiv burns through shells much faster than Western countries can produce them.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his evening address on February 13 that he met during the day with military commanders to discuss the defense of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions as well as the south of Ukraine, including Odesa.

“Constant attention is paid to the supply of weapons, ammunition, and everything that adds strength and stability to our soldiers,” he said, but provided no further details.

Valeriy Zaluzhniy, the commander in chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, said he held a phone call on the eve of the meeting with NATO Supreme Commander in Europe Christopher Cavoli.

“We discussed the issue of supplying international military aid to Ukraine and training our units on the territory of partner countries,” Zaluzhniy said.

A statement from the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said he shared assessments of the operational situation on the front of the Russian-Ukrainian war and plans for further actions.

Zaluzhniy expressed his gratitude for Cavoli’s “deep understanding of the situation and significant efforts to bring our victory closer,” the statement added.