NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg arrived in Kyiv on Thursday for the first time since Russia’s full-fledged invasion, demonstrating the military alliance’s support for Ukraine as it prepares to begin a counteroffensive.
Stoltenberg began his tour by laying a wreath in memory of Ukrainian servicemen slain battling Russian forces in the country’s east and inspecting seized Russian armored vehicles in St Michael’s Square in Kiev.
Ukrainian leaders and NATO officials did not immediately make any announcements about the trip, but top leaders visiting Kyiv often hold talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
The NATO secretary-general’s visit is likely to irk Russia, which regards the alliance as a hostile military bloc bent on encroaching on what it sees as its sphere of influence and opposes Ukraine’s efforts to join NATO.
The Kremlin told reporters on a conference call on Thursday that one of the aims of what Moscow calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine was to prevent Ukraine ever joining NATO.
“…otherwise it will present a serious, significant danger to the security of our country,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Ukraine, which gained independence from the Moscow-led Soviet Union in 1991, announced a bid for fast-track membership of NATO last September after the Kremlin said it had annexed four Ukrainian regions that its troops have partially occupied.