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Putin will 'use winter as a weapon' to spark a wave of Ukrainian refugees, NATO warns 

Ukrainian civilians carry supplies past a destroyed building in the eastern town of Lyman after it was liberated from Russian control

Vladimir Putin is using winter as a weapon against Ukraine because his army cannot beat Kyiv forces on the battlefield, the NATO chief has said.

Jens Stoltenberg said the Kremlin hopes to send a new wave of refugees fleeing to Europe by attacking “heat, light, water, [and] gas’.

But he promised that the members of the alliance would continue to support the country “as long as necessary”, in particular by rebuilding its destroyed infrastructure.

Stoltenberg spoke as NATO ambassadors gathered in Romania to discuss their next program of support for Ukraine and the possibility of it one day becoming a member.

Ukrainian civilians carry supplies past a destroyed building in the eastern town of Lyman after it was liberated from Russian control

Ukrainian civilians carry supplies past a destroyed building in the eastern town of Lyman after it was liberated from Russian control

Citizens cook their meals outdoors on fire due to lack of gas in the town of Lyman, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine

Citizens cook their meals outdoors on fire due to lack of gas in the town of Lyman, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine

“NATO’s door is open,” Stoltenberg said, adding that Russia “has no veto power” over who can apply to join the military pact.

Putin will “soon make Finland and Sweden members of NATO”, he added, after both countries applied for membership following the invasion of Ukraine.

Only Hungary and Turkey must now ratify the bid for the two nations – which have long-standing neutrality pacts with Russia – to be accepted.

Viktor Orban, the Hungarian leader, signaled that his country would soon approve the bid. Turkey’s Recep Erdogan should follow suit soon after.

“President Putin cannot prevent sovereign nations from making their own sovereign decisions that do not pose a threat to Russia,” Stoltenberg said.

“I think what he’s afraid of is democracy and freedom, and that’s the main challenge for him.”

Nevertheless, Ukraine is unlikely to be admitted to the alliance anytime soon – largely because of Russia’s war.

Article 5 of NATO means that allies are bound by treaty to come to the aid of any member attacked, which would see them embroiled in a war with Moscow.

Stoltenberg has been clear since the start of the invasion in February that avoiding all-out conflict between the West and Russia is his primary goal.

He added: “We are in the midst of a war and therefore we must not do anything that could undermine the unity of the allies to provide military, humanitarian and financial support to Ukraine, because we must prevent President Putin from winning.”

“We are all paying the price for Russia’s war against Ukraine. But the price we are paying is money, while the price Ukrainians are paying is a price paid in blood.

Instead, talks are expected to focus on the weapons Ukraine needs to win the war and the humanitarian support needed to help civilians survive the winter.

A Ukrainian soldier tries to warm up on the front line in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine

A Ukrainian soldier tries to warm up on the front line in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine

NATO allies are under pressure to give Kyiv the weapons it needs to carry out large-scale offensives against Russia, reclaim its captured territories and thus end the war on its terms rather than being coerced to a stalemate and some kind of peace agreement.

Gabrielius Landsbergis, the Lithuanian foreign minister, said on Twitter ahead of the talks: “My message to other foreign ministers at today’s NATO meeting is simple: keep calm and give tanks. ”

Long-range missiles capable of striking deep behind Russian lines are also likely to be on Kyiv’s shopping list, along with fast attack jets such as US F-16s or Swedish Gripen jets.

Requests for air defense systems to protect cities and civilian infrastructure such as power and water plants, which Kyiv has been making for weeks, are almost certain to be repeated.

NATO allies will also discuss military production and procurement as their own arms supplies are running out, limiting their ability to help Ukraine.

While Russia has placed much of its industry on a war footing and Putin has ordered factories to focus all their efforts on supplying the military, such measures have not been replicated in the West.

In terms of humanitarian aid, diesel generators, warm clothes, food and water are among the likely requests.

“The coming months will be a big test for all of us. For Ukraine it is existential, for us moral. We must continue to help Ukraine for as long as necessary,” said the Slovak Foreign Minister, Rastislav Kacer.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks ahead of a meeting of ambassadors to discuss increased support for Ukraine

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks ahead of a meeting of ambassadors to discuss increased support for Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has warned his fellow citizens of further Russian attacks this week that could be as serious as last week’s worst to date, which left millions without heat, water or electricity. .

Russia admits attacking Ukrainian infrastructure, which is a war crime, but denies that its intention was to harm civilians.

“It is going to be a terrible winter for Ukraine, so we are working to strengthen our support for it to be resilient,” said a senior European diplomat.

Germany, which holds the G7 presidency, has also scheduled a wealthy Group of Seven meeting with some partners on the sidelines of NATO talks as it seeks ways to speed up the rebuilding of energy infrastructure. from Ukraine.

Washington is working with American companies and European countries to locate equipment that can help restore high-voltage transmission stations damaged by Russian missile strikes, a senior State Department official told reporters.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will announce substantial US aid to Ukraine’s energy grid, US officials have announced. The Ukrainian network has been battered across the country since early October by targeted Russian strikes, in what US officials call a Russian campaign to weaponize the coming winter chill.

Ministers will hold a working dinner with their Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, on Tuesday evening.

On Wednesday, ministers will also discuss ways to step up support for partners who officials say are facing Russian pressure – Bosnia, Georgia and Moldova.

A person walks during recent snowfall in Kyiv, as winter descends on Eastern Europe

A person walks during recent snowfall in Kyiv, as winter descends on Eastern Europe

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