| 23 July 2024, Tuesday |

Kyiv welcomes Western allies, adheres to NATO membership

Three Western officials visited on Thursday the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, where President Volodymyr Zelensky lobbied for more air defense systems ahead of winter battles.

Zelensky received NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, whose visit to Kyiv coincided with the presence of the defense ministers of Britain and France.

The visits also come as Kyiv prepares to host on Friday the first Defense Industries Forum, where Ukrainian officials were set to meet representatives from over 160 defense firms and 26 countries.

During their talks, Stoltenberg and Zelensky focused on Ukraine’s membership in NATO. “(It is) a matter of time before Ukraine becomes a de jure member of the alliance,” Zelensky said at a joint press conference with the NATO chief.

In return, Stoltenberg said that Ukraine is “closer to NATO than ever before,” but remained cautious about setting any timetable to Kyiv’s joining the alliance, given the differing positions of NATO member states.

Meanwhile in Moscow, the Russian government presented a plan to hike defense spending by 68 percent in 2024 compared to last year, a finance ministry document published Thursday showed.

The defense spending is set to jump to almost 10.8 trillion rubles (106 billion euros).

The Kremlin said the increase of the defense spending was due to “the requirements of the current phase.”

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov made comments about the increase on Thursday. He said: “It is obvious that such an increase is absolutely necessary because we live in a state of hybrid war, we continue the special military operation. I mean the hybrid war that has been waged against us. And this requires high costs.”

In a related development, Belarus on Thursday said a Polish helicopter had violated its airspace twice.

Tense relations between the neighbors have been further strained by Belarusian ally Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February last year.

A similar incident occurred last September 1, when Belarus summoned a Polish diplomat to protest what it said was a Polish military helicopter’s violation of its border.

The Belarusian State Border Commission said the Polish Mi-24 military helicopter crossed the border “at an extremely low altitude, flew to a depth of up to 1,200 meters into the territory of Belarus, and then turned back.”

  • Asharq Al-Awsat