NATO warns of Russia's long war in Ukraine, vows to be ready

BRUSSELS (AP) — Russia is preparing for an extended war so NATO must get ready “for the long haul” and support Ukraine for as long as it takes, the alliance's deputy secretary general told military chiefs from across Europe on Wednesday.

Speaking at the opening of the military chiefs' meeting in Brussels, Mircea Geoana said NATO nations must invest more in defense, ramp up military industrial manufacturing and harness new technologies to prepare for future wars.

As Russia's war on Ukraine nears the one-year mark, NATO chiefs are expected to discuss how allies can expand the delivery of weapons, training and support to Ukraine in the coming months, and how they can further shore up their own defenses.

“We have no indication that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin's goals have changed," said Geoana, noting that Russia has mobilized more than 200,000 additional troops. "So we must be prepared for the long haul. 2023 will be a difficult year and we need to support Ukraine for as long as it takes.”

Separately on Wednesday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Ukraine’s Western backers will gather this week to discuss ways to supply heavier and more advanced weapons to help the war-ravaged country in its fight against Russia.

The so-called Ukraine Contact Group will meet at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Thursday and Friday. It consists of about 50 top defense officials, including U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who work to coordinate military contributions to Ukraine.

“The main message there will be: more support, more advanced support, heavier weapons and more modern weapons,” Stoltenberg said Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “This is a fight for our values, this is a fight for democracy, and we just have to prove that democracy wins over tyranny and oppression.”

U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met quietly on Tuesday with Ukraine’s chief military officer, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, at an undisclosed location in southeastern Poland, near the Ukrainian border. And he is expected to relay Zaluzhnyi’s concerns to the other military leaders at the meeting.

Milley's meeting with Zaluzhnyi was quickly arranged when it became clear Monday that the Ukrainian chief would not be able to attend the NATO sessions in person. He's expected to attend by video conference on Thursday.

Army Col. Dave Butler, Milley's spokesman, said the chairman planned to describe to the NATO chiefs “the tactical and operational conditions on the battlefield and what the military needs are for that."

Adm. Rob Bauer, the chair of the NATO Military Committee, told the gathering of chiefs on Wednesday that the alliance must continue to transform to meet future fights.

“The war has also shown us that you have to be able to fight tomorrow’s battles, as well as yesterday’s battles, today,” said Bauer, who is with the Royal Netherlands Navy. “Modern warfare is just as much about bits and bots as it is about mud and blood.”

He noted that about a year ago, the NATO Russia Council held its last meeting.

“Back then we were still able to sit around the same table,” he said, adding that now, after Russia’s brutal invasion and war in Ukraine, “the world is a different place.”

NATO, he said, has proven it can quickly increase and shift its military presence when and where needed. And he echoed the commitment that the alliance is prepared to support Ukraine for as long as needed.

Putin, he said, “underestimated the scale and bravery of Ukrainian people, armed forces and leadership, and underestimated our unity and our solidarity with Ukraine.” That alliance support, he said, has made a difference on the battlefield, and it will continue.

Stoltenberg told the Davos conference that it’s important that Putin doesn’t win the war and by supplying more equipment long-term the West will help to force him to the negotiating table. “It is very dangerous to underestimate Russia,” he warned.

“Weapons, they are the way to peace,” Stoltenberg said, but he added that they must come quickly.

“There is an urgent need. Time matters,” he said, shortly after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the forum by video-link.

___

Associated Press writer Lorne Cook in Strasbourg, France, contributed to this report.