Russia-Ukraine Live Updates: Zelensky Meets With NATO and Western Officials

Russia-Ukraine Live Updates: Zelensky Meets With NATO and Western Officials
The NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, left, and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine during a news conference in Kyiv, on Thursday.Credit…Sergei Supinsky/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Western defense officials made unannounced visits to Kyiv on Thursday in a show of support, as international arms manufacturers were preparing for a forum aimed at increasing weapons production inside Ukraine as its allies struggle to meet its needs for ammunition.

The defense minister of Britain and France met with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine in Kyiv this week, as did Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO, who told a news conference there on Thursday that it was important to help Ukraine boost its domestic weapons production.

His remarks came a day ahead of the event organized by the Ukrainian government, which Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s minister of foreign affairs, said would bring together representatives of 165 military contractors from 26 nations.

“It will be an important opportunity for Ukrainian companies to forge new partnerships with the industry across the alliance and beyond,” Mr. Stoltenberg told a news conference with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine on Thursday. “The stronger Ukraine becomes, the closer we come to ending Russia’s aggression.”

Despite an influx of sophisticated weapons provided by Western allies, progress in Ukraine’s counteroffensive has been slow. The front line has barely shifted over the past year, and a prolonged stalemate could weaken Western support. As the war drags on, political support in Washington for continuing the costly donations is threatening to wane, particularly within the Republican Party, and Europe is struggling to deliver on its promises of ammunition aid.

Ukraine has been drumming up pledges of new arms, while looking to ramp up its domestic arms industry. Joint production would not only help in the war effort, but would potentially be important for Ukraine’s economy and lucrative for defense industry contractors.

News of Mr. Stoltenberg’s visit, his second since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, came amid a flurry of appearances this week in Kyiv by other Western defense officials.

Mr. Zelensky’s office said he had discussed the importance of strengthening Ukraine’s air defenses before winter with Mr. Stoltenberg and with the British and French defense ministers.

“The Secretary General has committed to make personal efforts to support us, to rally the Allies behind this very purpose,” Mr. Zelensky’s office said in a statement. “We need to come through this winter together, protect our energy infrastructure and people’s lives.”

Sébastien Lecornu, France’s defense minister, said on Thursday that he had come to Ukraine accompanied by some 20 representatives of the French defense industry in fields as diverse as robots, drones, artillery and artificial intelligence.

Grant Shapps, Britain’s new defense secretary, traveled to Kyiv on Wednesday to discuss ongoing defense support and bolstering Ukraine’s air defenses with Mr. Zelensky, British officials said. The trip was not publicized.

“I am committed to maintaining the U.K.’s military support — particularly as the freezing winter weather approaches,” Mr. Shapps said, according to a British government statement on Thursday.

Neither Mr. Shapps nor Mr. Lecornu were expected to attend Ukraine’s first International Defense Industries Forum, which Mr. Stoltenberg said would take place on Friday.

Britain has committed several billion dollars in military assistance to Ukraine, the third biggest supporter after the United States and Germany, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy.

France has committed about 530 million euros, or about $560 million, in military aid to Ukraine — including long-range cannons, armored combat vehicles and rocket launchers.