KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is visiting Ukraine for the first time since Russia launched its full-scale invasion more than a year ago, an alliance official said Thursday.
“The NATO secretary-general is in Ukraine. We will release more information as soon as possible,” said an alliance official, who asked not to be identified in line with NATO procedures.
Pictures of Stoltenberg apparently paying tribute to fallen Ukrainian soldiers in Kyiv’s St Michael’s Square were published by local media.
Apart from the important symbolism of the visit, the exact purpose of Stoltenberg’s trip wasn’t immediately clear. NATO has no official presence in Ukraine. As an organization of 31 countries, it only provides nonlethal support — generators, medical equipment, tents, military uniforms and other supplies — to the government in Kyiv.
Stoltenberg has been the strong voice of the alliance throughout the war and has been instrumental in garnering and coordinating support by the 31 members for Ukraine as the country sought to hold on to its territory.
Stoltenberg had been to Kyiv before the war, but this is his first visit during the hostilities and underscores the longstanding commitments of the alliance in defense of Ukraine’s independence.
Earlier this month, Finland joined NATO, dealing a major blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin with a historic realignment of Europe’s post-Cold War security landscape triggered by Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Nordic country’s membership doubles Russia’s border with the world’s biggest security alliance. Neighboring Sweden is expected to join in coming months too, possibly by the time U.S. President Joe Biden and his NATO counterparts meet in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius on July 11-12.
The world's biggest security alliance has focused on bolstering defenses on its own territory to dissuade Putin from attacking any member country. Under NATO's collective security guarantee, an attack on one member country is considered to be an attack on them all.
The U.S. and many other members are providing weapons, ammunition and training for Ukraine's embattled troops bilaterally and in groups, but NATO as a whole wants to avoid being dragged into any potential war with nuclear armed Russia.
On Friday, Stoltenberg will attend a Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
Lorne Cook reported from Brussels.