Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has urged citizens to defend the country from Russia – and promised weapons would be issued to anyone who comes forward.
As Russia launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine, Zelensky told the nation “we are defending our country, we fight for our country and we protect our country”.
Speaking soon after Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops into Ukraine, Zelensky asked every fit military-aged man to join the country’s defence – and pledged to arm them.
Ukraine claims to have shot down five Russian warplanes and a helicopter on Thursday morning – while at least seven people have died in Russian bombing.
Nato beefs up eastern flank
It comes as Nato agreed at emergency talks to further beef up its land, sea and air forces on its eastern flank near Ukraine and Russia following the invasion.
“We are deploying additional defensive land and air forces to the eastern part of the alliance, as well as additional maritime assets,” Nato ambassadors said in a statement.
“We have increased the readiness of our forces to respond to all contingencies.”
Countries closest to the conflict – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland – requested rare consultations under Article 4 of Nato’s founding treaty, which can be launched when “the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the (Nato) parties is threatened”.
“We have decided, in line with our defensive planning to protect all allies, to take additional steps to further strengthen deterrence and defence across the alliance,” the envoys said.
“Our measures are and remain preventive, proportionate and non-escalatory.”
While some of Nato’s 30 member countries are supplying arms, ammunition and other equipment to Ukraine, Nato as an organisation is not.
It will not launch any military action in support of Ukraine, which is a close partner but has no prospect of joining.
‘Threat to the entire world’
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, however, said in a joint statement: “We would need to urgently provide Ukrainian people with weapons, ammunition and any other kind of military support to defend itself as well as economic, financial and political assistance and support, humanitarian aid.”
“The most effective response to Russia’s aggression is unity,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas tweeted.
“Russia’s widespread aggression is a threat to the entire world and to all NATO countries.”
Nato began beefing up its defences in north-eastern Europe after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
It has around 5,000 troops and equipment stationed there, but those forces have been beefed up with troops and equipment from several countries in recent months.
A first step now could be to activate the Nato Response Force (NRF), which can number up to 40,000 troops.
A quickly deployable land brigade that is part of the NRF – made up of around 5,000 troops and run by France alongside Germany, Poland, Portugal and Spain – is already on heightened alert.
Some Nato members have also sent troops, aircraft and warships to the Black Sea region, near allies Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey.
The Pentagon has also put up to 8,500 US troops on heightened alert, so they will be prepared to deploy if needed to reassure other allies.