NATO in Prague: praise for Czech defence spending and aid to Ukraine

 01. 06. 2024      category: Events
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The informal two-day summit of NATO foreign ministers and a series of bilateral meetings in Prague confirmed the joint efforts to assist the invaded Ukraine and the Czech Republic's esteemed membership in NATO. Alliance representatives stressed that support for the Russian-occupied country is also crucial for its future and that the Czech Republic is leading by example in these efforts. According to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, we are a valid and valued member of the Alliance not only because of our support for Ukraine, but also because of our commitment to spend two per cent of GDP on defence. The head of diplomacy, Jan Lipavsky, said during the meeting that we have no problem with the use of the weapons we supply to Ukraine, even against military targets in Russia. US approval for the use of US equipment for the same purposes was then announced by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

On 28 May, Prime Minister Petr Fiala hosted a working dinner with Ukraine's most active partners in the region. At the Kramář Villa, he welcomed the heads of government from Denmark Mette Frederiksen, the Netherlands Mark Rutte, Latvia Evika Siliņa, Ukraine Denys Šmyhal and Polish President Andrzej Duda along with American representatives. "We listened carefully to President Zelensky's call to increase and accelerate support, especially for ammunition and air defence, which are vital for the protection of Ukraine's population, cities and critical infrastructure, as well as on the battlefields. In response to President Zelensky's call for more ammunition supplies, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Denmark launched the Joint Artillery Ammunition Purchase Programme for Ukraine in March 2024," reads the joint statement from the Czech Republic, Poland, Denmark, Latvia and the Netherlands.

Foto: Lídři ČR, Polska, Dánska, Lotyšska a Nizozemska se v Praze shodli na další vojenské podpoře Ukrajiny | Vláda ČR
Picture: Leaders of the Czech Republic, Poland, Denmark, Latvia and the Netherlands agreed in Prague on further military support for Ukraine | Government of the Czech Republic

"The support for the purchase of ammunition for Ukraine through this initiative has been impressive, with a large number of countries participating. The current level of funding is more than 1.6 billion euros and we expect to secure the delivery of half a million pieces of artillery ammunition by the end of the year," the statement continued, adding that officials also welcome other sub-efforts, such as Germany's Immediate Action on Air Defense (IAAD).

The need to persevere in support of Ukraine was then voiced at each of the bilateral meetings during the two-day informal summit of NATO foreign ministers (Czech Republic, Canada, US, Denmark and UK) held on 30-31 May. The summit also included a meeting between Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. They discussed security, defence cooperation and possible further support for Ukraine. They also discussed the Czech munitions initiative and its progress, with Prime Minister Fiala promising to deliver the first munitions very soon. "At the moment, 15 countries are fully involved in the ammunition initiative. (...) The Ukrainians can expect the first ammunition deliveries in the next few days, with the expectation that we will deliver hundreds of thousands of rounds later this year. From June onwards, tens of thousands of artillery ammunition will flow to Ukraine on a monthly basis under this initiative," Fiala said at a joint press conference with Alliance Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Foto: Ministr zahraničních věcí Jan Lipavský jednal s ministryní zahraničí Kanady a svými protějšky ze Spojených států amerických, Dánska a Spojeného království. | Ministerstvo zahraničních věcí ČR
Picture: Minister of Foreign Affairs Jan Lipavský held talks with the Foreign Minister of Canada and his counterparts from the United States, Denmark and the United Kingdom. | Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic

"The Czech Republic is a strong and highly valued NATO ally. This is not only because you will spend more than 2% of your GDP on defence this year. You are leading the NATO battle group in Slovakia and contributing troops to the battle groups in Latvia and Lithuania, which helps deter any possible aggression," Stoltenberg said in his statement, highlighting the successful Czech missions abroad.

The meeting also focused on preparations for the official NATO summit in Washington in July, where further decisions on aid to Ukraine are expected to be made. It was not only the Czech representatives who raised again the topic of possible enlargement of the Alliance. "It is necessary to ensure that the doors of the North Atlantic Alliance remain open to new members, including Ukraine," Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also visited Prague on 30 May. He was first welcomed at the military airport in Kbely by Defence Minister Jana Černochová. In his speech, Blinken thanked for the assistance our country has provided to Ukraine so far and also highlighted the fulfilment of the commitment to NATO on defence spending. "The Czech Republic is leading by example in many different ways, including the fact that its defence budget will soon be 2.1% of GDP, which means that it is exceeding its commitment to the Alliance. We can also see this in the extraordinary work the Czech Republic is doing to support Ukraine in times of great need," Blinken told reporters in Kbely.

Foto: Blinken ve svém projevu poděkoval za pomoc, kterou naše země doposud poskytla Ukrajině a vyzdvihl také plnění závazku vůči NATO v podobě výdajů na obranu. | Jan Schejbal / MO ČR
Picture: In his speech, Blinken thanked for the assistance our country has provided to Ukraine so far and also highlighted the fulfilment of the commitment to NATO regarding defence spending. | Jan Schejbal / MoD

"It is the responsibility of the democratic world to give the Ukrainian armed forces everything they need to defend their country. The Czech Republic has provided Ukraine with tanks, combat vehicles and attack helicopters. We are currently working on the delivery of hundreds of thousands of critically needed artillery shells," Defence Minister Jana Černochová said.

There has long been disagreement over how to use Western aid in general. According to Jan Lipavský, the Czech Republic generally has no problem with Ukraine defending itself against a Russian invasion and attacking military targets on Russian territory if necessary. Although the Americans and Germans initially disagreed with this policy, both countries are now no longer opposed. However, there is no consensus across all the Western countries helping in this regard. "It is impossible for Italy to send troops to Ukraine and at the same time for them to use our weapons against Russia. We are not fighting against Russia. We are defending Ukraine and that is not the same thing," Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani was quoted by Euronews as saying in Prague.

However, Zelensky said that what is important is the US consent. "It will significantly strengthen our ability to counter Russian attempts to cross the border en masse," Serhiy Nykyforov of the Ukrainian presidential office told the Kyiv Independent. This is yet another milestone in US assistance that has gradually overcome all the barriers in place at the time - from tanks to long-range missiles to fighter jets.

 Author: Oliver Jahn

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