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Stoltenberg Says Ukrainian Forces 'Gradually Gaining Ground'


NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy shake hands prior to their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sept. 28, 2023.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy shake hands prior to their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sept. 28, 2023.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday that Ukrainian forces are “gradually gaining ground” in the face of fierce fighting and that he is constantly urging allies to provide more aid, boost defense production and speed up arms deliveries to Ukraine.

“The stronger Ukraine becomes, the closer we come to ending Russia’s aggression,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Kyiv.

Speaking alongside President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Stoltenberg said NATO has framework contracts in place for $2.5 billion in key ammunition for Ukraine.

Stoltenberg said it is in NATO’s security interest to provide Ukraine with what it needs to win the war.

In the United States, as the federal government prepares for a possible shutdown, the country's aid in the Ukrainian war effort could falter, according to Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh.

Those affected by the shutdown would include Pentagon civilians involved in English-language training for Ukraine's F-16 pilots, so if there is a government shutdown, "there could be impacts to training," Singh said. "At this point right now, I just don't have more specific details to offer."

France has pledged its continued support of Ukraine, and the two countries have been in talks to maintain the continuous securing of arms for Kyiv.

"Dozens of projects have either been launched or are under discussion, aimed at organizing joint production of new weapons or maintenance of weapons already with us," Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov told a news conference alongside his French counterpart, Sebastien Lecornu.

"[France will] continue to help Ukraine as much as is necessary," Lecornu said.

No specific details were given on the arms Paris intends to send to Kyiv.

Ukraine’s military said Thursday that its air defenses had downed 34 of 44 Shahed drones that Russia used to attack the country overnight.

The areas targeted in the attack included Mykolaiv, Odesa and Kirovohrad.

Oleh Kiper, the regional governor of Odesa, said on Telegram there were no casualties there. He said there was no destruction, only a few small grass fires from falling debris.

Zelenskyy said in his nightly address Wednesday that his country’s fighters “need more means of destroying Russian missiles, Shaheds and other combat drones, as well as Russian aircraft.”

Zelenskyy expressed gratitude to “everyone in the world who is already helping and is willing to ramp up assistance to our country with the means that can provide more protection against Russian terror.”

Wagner fighters

About 500 Wagner mercenaries who fought alongside Russian troops in Ukraine before fleeing to Belarus after a short-lived mutiny in June have now returned to the front lines to again fight Kyiv’s forces, a Ukrainian Army spokesman said Wednesday.

Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin was killed in a plane crash in Russia last month, raising questions about the future of his forces. Some, possibly as many as 6,000, have been in Belarus for three months, while others had been deployed to Africa, where Wagner also has had ongoing operations.

Now, about 500 of the Wagner troops have resumed fighting for Russia in Ukraine, Ilya Yevlash, the spokesman for Ukraine’s Eastern Grouping of Forces, told Ukrainian broadcaster RBC-Ukraine. He said the Russian Defense Ministry had renegotiated contracts with the returning mercenaries.

“These individuals are indeed among the most well-trained in the Russian army, but they will not become a game-changer,” Yevlash said.

Most of the Wagner forces that had previously fought in Ukraine had taken part in the brief mutiny but moved to Belarus under a deal the Belarusian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, negotiated with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Yevlash said the camps in Belarus are now being disbanded.

The cause of the plane crash that killed Prigozhin and other Wagner leaders has not been determined but many Western officials believe it was Putin’s retribution for the uprising Prigozhin led, a troop movement toward Moscow that he abruptly called off.

In the weeks that followed, Prigozhin met with Putin at the Kremlin and traveled freely in Russia before the plane crash.

Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.