March 24 (UPI) — Ahead of an extraordinary NATO summit on Thursday, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he and world leaders including U.S. President Joe Biden will aim to increase the alliance’s defensive capabilities in Eastern Europe to protect countries close to war-scarred Ukraine.
Stoltenberg told reporters Thursday in Brussels ahead of the summit that NATO’s core mission is to defend its allies and pledged to do so by establishing four new battlegroups in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia.
Member countries, he said, will also need to provide more funding for defense.
“We need to do more, and therefore we need to invest more,” he said. “There is a new sense of urgency and I expect that the leaders will agree to accelerate the investments in defense to meet the pledge we have made to invest more in defense.”
“We are determined to continue to impose costs on Russia to bring about the end of this brutal war,” he added. “We pay tribute to the great courage of the Ukranian people and the Ukranian armed forces fighting for their freedom and their rights. We also recognize those in the Russia who are bravely speaking out against the war. We hear their voices, they matter.”
Thursday’s meeting came exactly one month after the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, which officials estimate has so far killed nearly 1,000 Ukrainian civilians and led 3.6 million to flee to other nations, according to United Nations data.
U.S. President Joe Biden arrived in Brussels late Wednesday and attended the NATO summit on Thursday as he looks to further align efforts with allies on controlling Russian aggression against Ukraine.
Stoltenberg called Ukraine’s “the most serious security crisis in a generation.”
Biden shook hands with NATO leaders at Thursday’s summit, including French President Emmanuel Macron and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as they took a formal photo at the start of their summit. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was expected to virtually address the summit.
Zelensky has been calling for a no-fly zone to be established over Ukraine as a method to block Russian airstrikes, but NATO and Biden have resisted so far over concerns that it could escalate the fighting with nuclear-armed Russia.
Stoltenberg said NATO is supplying Ukraine with advanced air defense systems, anti-tank weapons, ammunition and fuel — but noted that the alliance will not send troops.
“We have a responsibility to ensure that this conflict does not escalate beyond Ukraine,” he said. “And to declare a no-fly zone means that we need to massively attack Russian air defense systems in Russia, in Belarus and in Ukraine, and also be ready to shoot down Russian planes.
“And then the risk of a full-fledged war between NATO and Russia will be very high.”
On Wednesday, U.S. national security advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters en route to Brussels that NATO has not been involved in coordinating security assistance to Ukraine, which has fallen to individual member states.
After the NATO meeting, Biden was expected to attend a Group of Seven summit to weigh further consequences against Moscow — and later meet with European Council President Charles Michel and attend a summit of the European Council.
The council summit will weigh “transatlantic efforts to impose economic costs on Russia, provide humanitarian support to those affected by the violence, and address other challenges related to the conflict,” according to the White House schedule.
A new package of economic sanctions against Russia is expected to focus on enforcement of sanctions already in place and punitive measures for other countries that attempt to help Moscow dodge economic punishment.
Biden is scheduled to hold a news conference at around 3 p.m. EDT on Thursday to round up the day’s meetings. On Friday, he will travel to Poland and meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda.