Ukraine 'closer to NATO than ever before' as UK says Putin navy in Black Sea retreat

Ukraine 'closer to NATO than ever before' as UK says Putin navy in Black Sea retreat

Ukraine is now "closer to NATO than ever before,” the military alliance's chief said on Wednesday as Britain claimed Putin's navy has been pushed back across the Black Sea.NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also stressed that Russia has amassed a large missile stockpile ahead of winter and had unleashed a wave of drone and missile strikes on Ukraine's power grid and energy infrastructure to try to leave it "in the dark and cold" in coming months.

Earlier, arriving at a Nato meeting in Brussels, Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron stressed that Britain was pushing to maintain the widespread support for Kyiv in its battle against Putin’s invasion and to “show that Russian aggression must never pay”.

He said: “Two weeks ago, I was in Ukraine saying we needed to do everything that we could to help the Ukrainians repel this appalling aggression by Putin. And I’ll be building consensus for that view here at NATO today.

“When you look at the big picture, what’s happened recently is the Ukrainians have pushed the Russian Navy right back across the Black Sea, they opened a shipping lane to get their exports out, their economy is growing. And of course, they’re knocking on the door of both NATO and the EU and getting a very warm response.

“These are huge achievements. And our job today is to build on those achievements and work out what other concrete steps we can take to help the Ukrainians in their struggle, and to show that Russian aggression must never pay.”

NATO remains four-square behind Ukraine in its war against Russia, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday, denying the crisis in Gaza is distracting the Western alliance.

Briefing reporters at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels, the top US diplomat said they were agreed on wanting Israel and Hamas to extend their truce to “so that we continue to get more hostages out and more humanitarian assistance in” to Gaza.

But the conflict sparked by Hamas last month was not overwhelming NATO’s attention, Mr Blinken stressed.

“It in no way took away from the intense focus that we've had over the last couple of days on Ukraine as well as on Western Balkans and preparing for the NATO summit in Washington next spring,” he said.

“We heard, I heard, a strong, enduring commitment on the part of alliance members to Ukraine and making sure that it had what it needs to defend itself to retake territory seized from it by Russia,” he added.

“But also to build itself up so that it can stand strongly on its own feet, militarily, economically, and democratically. I heard no sense of fatigue or falling back, on the contrary, a determination to continue to press forward.”

In September, British defence chiefs stressed that Ukrainian forces were locked in a “deep strike battle” in the Black Sea against Putin's navy, with missile strikes in occupied Crimea where Russia has a major naval base at Sevastopol.

They maintained that Russia's Black Sea Fleet has been hit with the most “damaging and coordinated” blows it has suffered so far in the war.

The Moskva destroyer, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, sunk last year after reportedly being hit by two Neptune missiles off the coast of Odesa.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Wednesday that the European Union has delivered about 300,000 of its promised million shells to Kyiv.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the Nato meeting, Mr Kuleba called for greater alignment of Ukraine's and NATO's defence industries to ensure Kyiv has the supplies it needs to defeat Russia, which invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock stressed the need to create a “winter shield” for Ukraine amid a fresh wave of drone and missile attacks by Putin’s forces.

Twenty-one drones and three cruise missiles were launched at Ukraine overnight, but all the drones and two of the missiles were destroyed before reaching their targets, Ukraine’s air force said on Wednesday.

The third missile was not destroyed but did not reach its target, the air force said without going into further detail.

The Iranian-made Shahed drones were headed towards the western region of Khmelnytskyi, the air force said. The target was not identified, but the region is home to a large air base.

The air force said the missiles were shot down over the southern region of Mykolaiv, while the drones were downed in seven provinces all over Ukraine.

Earlier on Wednesday, Russia’s defence ministry said a frigate from its Black Sea Fleet launched an attack with four cruise missiles on Ukraine’s military infrastructure, but it was not clear when the attack took place.

The Russian defence ministry occasionally releases information after a delay.

Ukraine’s navy said Russia’s three cruise missiles were launched from the Kherson region bordering the Black Sea, parts of which have been under Russian control since early in the war that Moscow started 21 months ago.

In its latest intelligence update, the Ministry of Defence in London stressed that during recent weeks the Russian air force has “likely started to more frequently employ the RBK-500 500kg cluster munition bomb” even though they can pose a significant threat to civilians.

It added: “Depending on the variant, each RBK-500 ejects between approximately 100 and 350 sub-munitions.

“In turn, each sub-munition typically detonates with either hundreds of high-velocity fragments, or a single, larger anti-tank charge.”

The briefing added that RBK-500 bombs were reported to have been used against Ukrainian forces on the Vuhledar axis and near Avdiivka, both in the Donetsk province in eastern Ukraine.

“There is a realistic possibility that, as with other air-dropped bombs, Russia has likely recently integrated a UMPC guided stand-off glide kit with RBK-500,” it stressed.

“This allows the carrying aircraft to release the munition many kilometres away from the target. Russia’s glide bomb kits have generally achieved poor accuracy.

“However, with its large number of sub-munitions, a single RBK-500 can cause effects over an area of several hundred metres, increasing the chance of inflicting at least some damage on the intended target.”