While NATO is stressing caution on membership for Ukraine during Russia's months-old invasion, Ukraine officials are denouncing what they consider a "strategic mistake" in past hesitancy to have their nation join.
"It is somehow unfortunate that it was exactly here in this palace in 2008 when, in our view, a strategic mistake was made by delaying Ukraine's membership to NATO," Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleb told reporters at the end of two days of meetings in Bucharest, Romania, The Washington Post reported. "We believe … that the discussion on Ukraine's application should begin. And we believe that mistakes made in the past can be corrected."
NATO ministers pledged to help Ukrainians cope with what Secretary Gen. Jens Stoltenberg said was Moscow using winter weather as "a weapon of war," and to aid in sustaining Kyiv's military campaign.
But Stoltenberg warned against a near-term admittance into NATO.
"It is important now that we take it step by step," Stoltenberg said Wednesday, the Post reported. "The most important and urgent step is to ensure that Ukraine prevails, and that is exactly what we are doing."
U.S. Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith said the support is coming for Ukraine, even if membership is not imminent. It could come down the road.
"Allies are continuing to reaffirm their commitment to what happened in this city in 2008," Smith said, the Post reported. "We also have said many times that our focus collectively right now is on practical support to Ukrainian military forces and to the Ukrainian people."
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the outcome showed NATO was "absolutely not interested in a political and diplomatic solution in Ukraine."
The meeting comes as Russia said its forces in eastern Ukraine had edged forward. Kyiv said Moscow was "planning something" in the south and NATO sought Wednesday to shore up other countries that fear destabilization from Moscow.
Ukraine's General Staff said earlier its troops had repelled six Russian attacks in 24 hours in the eastern Donbas region, while Russian artillery had relentlessly shelled across the Dnipro River, including at Kherson city, in the south.
Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of Ukraine's presidential administration, said electricity had been restored to 65% of consumers in Kherson. Russians have been shelling the southern city since they withdrew earlier this month.
Winter weather has hampered fighting on the ground, and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has told citizens to expect a major Russian barrage this week on Ukraine's stricken electricity infrastructure, which Moscow has pounded roughly weekly since early October.
"These are President [Vladimir] Putin's new targets; he's hitting them hard," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said after NATO talks in Bucharest.
Putin has focused his "fire and ire" on Ukraine's civilians by bombing more than a third of its energy system supplying power and water, but the strategy will not work, Blinken said.
The U.S.-led military alliance was also concerned about China's cooperation with Russia, Blinken said.
NATO allies offered Wednesday to help nearby Moldova, Georgia, and Bosnia, Stoltenberg said, adding they were all under pressure from Russia.
"If there is one lesson from Ukraine it is that we need to support them now," Stoltenberg told a news conference.
Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu told Reuters, "The beast also wants to take control of the Western Balkans."
Zelenskyy said Russian forces were attacking Ukrainian government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces which make up the eastern Donbas, as well as Kharkiv in the northeast, where Ukraine pushed them back in September.
"The situation at the front is difficult," the president said in his Tuesday night video address.
"Despite extremely large losses, the occupiers are still trying to advance" in the east and "they are planning something in the south," he said, without elaborating.
A teenager was killed when Russia shelled a hospital in the northern Sumy region and another person was killed and one wounded in Russia's Kherson shelling, other officials said.
Russia said later its forces had taken full control of three settlements in the Donetsk region – Andriivka, Belogorovka and Pershye Travnya – and destroyed a warehouse in the southeastern Dnipropetrovsk region containing U.S.-made HIMARS shells.
Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield reports.
NATO ministers meeting for two days in Bucharest pledged both to help Ukrainians cope with what Stoltenberg said was Moscow using winter weather as "a weapon of war" and to help sustain Kyiv's military campaign.
Washington pledged $53 million to buy power grid equipment, and President Joe Biden said providing more military assistance is a priority. Republicans, who take control of Congress' House of Representatives in January, have talked about pausing the funding, which has exceeded $18 billion.
Information from Reuters was used in this report.
© 2023 Newsmax. All rights reserved.