NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has reaffirmed the alliance’s support for Ukraine’s eventual membership and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reassured Kyiv of allies’ support “for as long as it takes” as they gathered in Germany to discuss beefing up weapons deliveries for Ukraine as fighting raged in the east.
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But Stoltenberg added on April 21 that the alliance’s main focus now is to ensure Ukraine prevails against Russia’s unprovoked invasion and that, once the war ends, Kyiv has “the deterrence to prevent new attacks.”
Stoltenberg and Austin were talking at the start of a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, consisting of representatives from some 50 countries, at the U.S. Ramstein Air Base in Germany to coordinate additional military aid to Ukraine.
Stoltenberg said the allies will also discuss the possibility of providing various types of aircraft during the meeting, while Austin said the talks will focus on air defense and ammunition for Ukraine.
“Our support for the forces of freedom in Ukraine holds strong and true,” Austin told participants.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, who is also attending the meeting, met with Austin ahead of the talks.
“Over the past year, members of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group have provided tremendous capabilities to Ukraine. We will support them for as long as it takes,” Austin tweeted after meeting with Reznikov.
The meeting came a day after Stoltenberg visited Kyiv and told Ukrainians their country’s future belongs in the alliance, but stopped short of offering a clear timeline.
On the battlefield, Russia pressed its offensive in the eastern city of Bakhmut despite suffering heavy losses, the Ukrainian military said on April 21, while Kyiv and Poltava regions sustained more drone attacks that caused damage to infrastructure.
Ukrainian air defense detected and shot down eight Iranian-made Shahed drones above Kyiv overnight, the capital’s military administration said early on April 21.
“After a 25-day lull, the capital of Ukraine suffered another air attack from the enemy…. About eight enemy drones were detected and shot down,” Serhiy Popko, the head of the Kyiv military administration, said on Telegram, adding that according to initial reports there were no casualties or major damage.
In the eastern region of Poltava, a Russian drone attack damaged civilian infrastructure, Dmytro Lunin, the region’s military governor, said on Telegram.
“There is destruction of civilian infrastructure. Rescuers are working to control the fire. Preliminarily, there are no victims,” Lunin said.
In the eastern region of Donetsk, fighting raged on the Bakhmut-Avdiyivka-Maryinka front, which Russian forces have been unsuccessfully attempting to break through for several months, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in its daily bulletin.
“The enemy, at the cost of heavy losses, continues to concentrate its main efforts on conducting offensive actions in the Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiyivka, and Maryinka directions,” the military said, adding that the fiercest battle continues to be fought for Bakhmut.
Over the past day, more than 60 enemy attacks were repulsed by Ukrainian defenders, it said.
Meanwhile, the United States said it will begin training Ukrainian forces on how to use and maintain Abrams tanks in the coming weeks, as it continues to speed up its effort to get them onto the battlefield.
According to U.S. officials, 31 tanks will arrive in Germany at the end of May, and Ukrainian forces will begin training a couple of weeks later.