Brussels, 25 March 2022 (dpa/MIA) — NATO has activated its defenses against chemical and nuclear weapons as concerns mount that Russia might use such weapons in Ukraine, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday as Western leaders met to further punish Russia for the invasion now in its second month.
Speaking after an extraordinary NATO summit in Brussels that coincided with G7 and European Council summits, Stoltenberg said the 30 leaders of the defense alliance had agreed to send Ukraine “detection, protection, and medical supplies, as well as training for decontamination and crisis management.”
“So we are taking measures both to support Ukraine and also to defend ourselves,” Stoltenberg said.
NATO is concerned that Russia may attempt to create a “pretext” for the tactical use of such weapons in the war, for example by accusing Kiev or other nations of working on chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, Stoltenberg said.
Allies from NATO, the EU and G7 countries held talks in the Belgian capital to decide how to respond to and end Russia’s assault on its neighbor, which began exactly a month ago on Thursday.
Russia, which says it is threatened by any eastward expansion of NATO, has described its war in Ukraine as a “special military operation” with the aim of “getting rid of the military potential of Ukraine.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed both NATO and EU leaders during the respective summits.
He criticized NATO for not imposing a no-fly zone over his country and repeated his requests for deliveries of tanks and jets. Some members of the alliance fear such moves could escalate into direct war with Russia.
NATO leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz dismissed the request.
“There is a limit, which is not to become belligerent,” Macron said in response to a question about the request. “This limit is shared by all the allies.”
Zelensky also told NATO leaders that Russia had used phosphorus bombs in Ukraine. Stoltenberg later declined to comment on the claim.
In an address to the EU leaders’ summit several hours later, Zelensky thanked the bloc for its sanctions against Russia and for suspending the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany, but said it had been “a little late” in doing so.
“And now (we) are preparing Ukraine’s membership in the European Union. Finally,” he said, referring to one of the summit conclusions that acknowledges Ukraine’s “European aspirations.”
“Here I ask you – do not be late … because during this month you saw that Ukraine should be in the EU in the near future,” he said.
The EU recognized Ukraine’s desire for membership earlier in March at an informal summit in Versailles near Paris but made no firm commitments to entry.
NATO leaders also signed off on the deployment of four new battlegroups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. NATO has now deployed eight battlegroups in Europe including the Baltics and Poland.
Moscow slammed the decision, describing it as confirmation that NATO was interested “in continuing hostilities.”
US President Joe Biden, attending all three summits, urged the West to stay united in the face of Russia’s aggression.
Speaking at NATO headquarters, Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin is mistaken if he thinks “Europe is going to crack” under the pressure of inflicting round after round of sanctions in response to the invasion of Ukraine, even if they have economic costs for the continent.
Biden said the US would respond if Russia uses chemical weapons in Ukraine but that “the nature of the response would depend on the nature of the use.”
Arriving later at the EU leaders’ summit, Biden said Putin had tried “from the very beginning” to break up NATO.
Putin’s “overwhelming objective is to demonstrate that democracies cannot function in the 21st century,” Biden said, adding the Kremlin chief wants to prove “autocracies are going to rule.”
In their final declaration, EU leaders accused Russia of war crimes in Ukraine, saying that Moscow will be “held to account in accordance with international law.”
They also called for a solidarity fund to support Ukraine’s economic recovery after the Russian invasion.
Earlier on Thursday, both the US and Britain announced new sanctions packages designed to deter Russia from continuing its war.
The US measures target more than 400 people and entities including Russian oligarchs, politicians and defense companies in connection with the invasion of Ukraine.
The US is also to admit 100,000 refugees fleeing the war and provide more than $1 billion in humanitarian assistance to the country.
Russian central bank transactions involving gold will be subject to Western sanctions.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new sanctions against 65 additional entities and individuals including the paramilitary Wagner Group – seen as Putin’s private army.