(Frankfurt) NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned that a quick end to the war in Ukraine should not be expected in an interview published on Sunday, as the Ukrainian army is engaged in a counter-offensive to repel Russian forces.
“Most wars last longer than was anticipated when they started,” Mr. Stoltenberg stressed in this interview with the German media group Funke.
“Therefore we must prepare for a long war in Ukraine,” he added.
The war began in February 2022, when Russian armed forces invaded Ukraine. The Ukrainian army has been carrying out a counter-offensive since June to push back Russian forces in the south and east, but this operation has only made it possible to recapture a limited number of localities.
“We all want a quick peace,” Mr. Stoltenberg continued.
“But at the same time we must recognize (this): if President (Volodymyr) Zelensky and the Ukrainians stop fighting, their country will no longer exist.”
“If President (Vladimir) Putin and Russia lay down their arms, we will have peace,” he said.
As for Ukraine’s desire to join NATO, Mr. Stoltenberg assured: “There is no doubt that sooner or later Ukraine will be in NATO.”
Kyiv moved closer to NATO during the alliance’s summit in July, he said.
“When this war ends, we will need security guarantees for Ukraine. Otherwise, history could repeat itself,” he warned.
At the NATO summit in Vilnius, alliance leaders agreed that Ukraine could join NATO once certain conditions are met, with U.S. and German leaders stressing that among those conditions are reforms to protect the democracy and the rule of law.
The Russian army contradicts Kyiv and claims to still be in Andriïvka
The Russian army claimed on Saturday that it had not been “dislodged” from the village of Andriïvka in Ukraine, south of the devastated town of Bakhmout on the eastern front, contradicting an announcement made the day before by the Ukrainian general staff.
“In the Donetsk sector, the enemy (…) continued to carry out assault operations (…), trying in vain to dislodge Russian troops from the localities of Klichtchiïvka and Andriïvka”, indicated the Russian Ministry of Defense in its daily bulletin.
However, on Friday, the Ukrainian army said it had “liberated Andriïvka, in the Donetsk region”.
According to this source, Kyiv’s troops had inflicted, during “offensive operations”, “significant losses on the enemy in terms of manpower and equipment”.
The Russian denial sows a little more confusion about the real situation in this very small village, populated by around fifty inhabitants before the war, after Kyiv announced its capture this week.
The spokesperson for a Ukrainian brigade engaged in the fighting there told Ukrainian television on Friday that Andriïvka was “completely destroyed” by the hostilities.
In a video published on Saturday by his brigade on Telegram, we see Ukrainian soldiers advancing in a hellish setting made of charred trees and ruins.
The fierce and bloody battle for the small town of Bakhmout, just north of this small town, lasted more than a year. Moscow claimed in May the capture of the city, largely destroyed by fighting and bombings.
The Russian occupation authorities also announced on Saturday that five civilians had been killed and another person injured in several Ukrainian strikes on Donetsk and Svitlodarsk, a town located 30 km southeast of Bakhmut, in territory under Russian control.
“Three residential houses and two civilian infrastructures were damaged, one house was destroyed in Svitlodarsk,” added the head of the Russian occupation of the Donetsk region, Denis Pushilin, on Telegram.
The Ukrainian army has been leading a counter-offensive since the beginning of June intended to push back Russian forces in the East and South, but it faces powerful defensive lines made up of minefields, trenches and anti-tank traps.
This operation has so far only allowed the capture of a handful of villages, but the Ukrainian push has intensified in recent weeks, particularly on the southern front.
Two cargo ships sail towards Ukrainian ports
Ukraine announced on Saturday that two cargo ships were currently sailing in the Black Sea towards its ports, a first since the end in July of the grain agreement with Russia which has allowed the export of Ukrainian goods since the summer of 2022 despite the Russian invasion.
“The first civilian ships are using the temporary corridor to reach Ukrainian ports,” Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Koubrakov said on Facebook.
“The cargo ships Resilient Africa And Aroyat confirmed that they were ready to take the route to the port of Chornomorsk to load almost 20,000 tonnes of wheat destined for Africa and Asia,” he added in his statement.
According to the information he published, the two cargo ships “fly the flag of Palau and their crew is made up of citizens of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Egypt and Ukraine”.
These are the first ships to sail towards ports in southern Ukraine since mid-July, despite Moscow’s repeated threat to target its boats.
In mid-July, Russia had in fact slammed the door on the cereal agreement signed in the summer of 2022 with Kyiv under the aegis of the UN and Turkey to allow, despite the war, the export of Ukrainian cereals. , crucial for global food security.
Since then, Russia has carried out a bombing campaign targeting Ukraine’s port and grain infrastructure, a means, according to Kyiv, of preventing any attempt at exports. Moscow, for its part, claims to have hit military targets.
“In one month”, “270,000 tonnes of grain” had been destroyed in Russian strikes, Mr. Koubrakov indicated on August 23.
At this stage, in the opposite direction – towards the Bosphorus Strait – “five cargo ships took the temporary corridor” set up by Kyiv, the minister recalled on Saturday.