NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday he is confident the United States will continue to provide support for Ukraine amid divisions among U.S. lawmakers about approving more funding for the Ukraine war effort.
Speaking to reporters before the start of two days of talks with NATO foreign ministers in Brussels, Stoltenberg lauded what he called the unprecedented military support NATO allies have provided to Ukraine in response to Russia's invasion.
"The challenge now is that we need to sustain that support," Stoltenberg said.
He described supporting Ukraine as NATO's obligation, saying that a Russian victory in Ukraine would be both a "tragedy for Ukrainians" and dangerous to NATO members.
See related video by Katherine Gypson:
Stoltenberg met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken before the start of the ministerial talks.
"We will be strongly reaffirming our support for Ukraine as it continues to face Russia's war of aggression," Blinken told reporters in a joint appearance with Stoltenberg.
Ukraine’s 'Ultimate Membership' in NATO
The United States is hosting the next NATO summit in Washington from July 9 to 11, 2024. Blinken discussed priorities for the Washington meeting with his counterparts as the alliance celebrates its 75th anniversary next year.
A senior U.S. official told reporters that a significant portion of the discussions leading up to the Washington Summit would aim to ensure that Ukraine is making the necessary progress toward “ultimate membership” in NATO “when conditions are right.”
The bloc’s member states have suggested to Ukraine "a set of governance reforms," including the strengthening of anti-corruption agencies and authorities.
On Wednesday, Blinken will hold separate talks with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba after attending the first foreign minister-level meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council, as Kyiv aspires to become a NATO member.
"The Council supports Ukraine's close partnership with NATO," said Jim O'Brien, assistant secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs. "Allies will continue to support Ukraine's self-defense until Russia stops its war of aggression," he added.
The NATO-Ukraine Council was inaugurated at the NATO Summit in Vilnius on July 12, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other heads of member governments also in attendance.
It convened for the second time in late July to discuss Black Sea security following Russia's withdrawal from a deal overseeing grain exports from Ukrainian ports.
The third meeting was held in October to discuss substantial assistance to Ukraine and to ensure Ukraine's forces are fully interoperable with NATO.
The NATO-Ukraine Council is the joint body where Allies and Ukraine sit as equal participants to advance political dialogue.
North Macedonia, OSCE
Wednesday afternoon, Blinken will lead the U.S. delegation to NATO member North Macedonia, which is hosting a meeting of foreign ministers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, or OSCE, in its capital, Skopje, later this week.
Blinken is slated to hold talks with North Macedonia Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani before heading to the Middle East later on Wednesday night.
Bulgaria has given permission for Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's plane to cross its airspace en route to Skopje following North Macedonia's request, allowing him to attend the OSCE ministerial meetings.
This has sparked an immediate outcry from Ukraine and the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, who will boycott the gathering due to Lavrov’s expected attendance.
"We obviously respect every country's ability to make its decision about whether they should attend or not. We think it's a useful forum to engage with OSCE members and are going to attend for that reason,” a senior State Department official told reporters on Tuesday.
“We do not expect one,” said the official when asked if Blinken would have any encounter with Lavrov during the OSCE meetings.