Brussels meeting of NATO and Ukraine defense ministers amid counter-offensive

12:06 23.06.2023 • Denis Baturin , political scientist

A NATO summit, scheduled for July, will take place in Vilnius. However, the intention to inflict a “strategic defeat” on Russia as part of the “existential confrontation” with the assistance and at the expense of Ukraine make all NATO-friendly countries meet more often.

The June 15 meeting of NATO defense ministers with the participation of Ukraine took place amid the Ukrainian counteroffensive, which could have begun by then. The Ukrainian side had persistently been preparing the informative and propaganda part of the meeting as a moment of truth in the decision to supply Kyiv with aircraft.  

Ukrainian army officials have been talking about “shaping operations”, which could be interpreted as “a nearly counteroffensive”, or the initial stage of the counteroffensive. The term “shaping operations” was coined and disseminated via western media more than one month ago, when it was explained what it means: «Ukraine’s armed forces have launched “shaping” operations ahead of the counteroffensive. A report to this effect was posted by CNN citing two high-ranking military officials in western countries. These operations comprise strikes at weapons depots, command posts, armored and artillery systems. According to the TV Channel, this is a standard tactic used to prepare the battleground for the advancing forces. In the words of one of the sources, these “shaping” operations may continue for many days until the start of the main stage of the counteroffensive”.[i]

The information war makes it necessary to invent, think of information inputs, so that in the future it will be possible to say that the failure of the counteroffensive can be explained by the fact that it did not take place, what did take place was the “shaping operations”. Here is a sample posted one month after the beginning of the “shaping operations”: “The Ukrainian armed forces managed to repulse some Russian units, but Ukrainian military sustained losses in manpower and hardware, losing several MRAP vehicles. According to sources, these losses will not hamper a far more extensive counteroffensive Ukraine is planning for the near future”[ii]

Both the West, and Ukraine are facing the same problems. After the counteroffensive was announced, the weapons arrived. Now, it must yield results - the West has supplied Ukraine with weapons to this end. As a result, there appear embarrassing situations and questions. On June 8, Washington Post and АВС quoting army servicemen and Ukrainian officials, including close to President Vladimir Zelensky, reported that the Ukrainian counter-strike had begun: «On Thursday, Ukraine launched a counteroffensive against Russia, The Washington Post and ABC News reported on June 8. The Washington Post cites four army officials in Ukraine who are not in the position to speak about it in public. ABC News quotes two Ukrainian officials and a source close to Vladimir Zelensky. The Ukrainian forces, including strike divisions, equipped with western weapons and trained in NATO tactics, have intensified strikes against frontline strongholds in the south-east of the country, WP reports. The counteroffensive has entered an active phase, ABC reports».[iii]

But the counteroffensive announced by the Americans was quickly disavowed. On the same day, on June 8, Reuters reported that the Military Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces had refuted reports by American news media citing unnamed officials and military representatives about the start of the counteroffensive: «The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces has denied reports by American sources citing unnamed Ukrainian officials and military representatives about the start of the counteroffensive, Reuters reported on Thursday. "We have no such information. And we do not comment on anonymous sources", - a representative of the Ukrainian General Army Staff told the agency».[iv] 

The developments on the frontline are such that Kyiv is unwilling and is unable to talk about the start of the counteroffensive, as it can’t start endlessly and fruitlessly. On that day, on June 8, the situation was described by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu: «In Zaporozhye, at 1.30 am, Ukrainian forces numbering up to 1500 men and 150 armoured vehicles attempted to break the Russian defenses, but lost up to 350 men and 30 tanks in the course of two hours. The Ukrainian brigade was put to a halt in all sections of the Zaporozhye direction». Later, the situation on the battleground followed a similar scenario.

Next came the videos showing burnt Leopards and Bradleys. The western information community reacts painfully, torn between the need to explain what is happening and the necessity to stay in the “winning” agenda. Experts estimate the situation in the following way: «Wall Street Journal responded to the videos showing the destroyed Leopards with several articles one of which outlines the purpose of the Ukrainian offensive quite overtly: «The West spent millions to supply weapons and provide training of Ukrainian soldiers, and now, Kyiv should demonstrate to the allies that it can convert this assistance in the result on the battlefield». 

Another article from WSJ states the truth that has been repeated over and over again – a failure, the authors of the article argue, “may intensify international appeals for the cessation of military operations – a scenario, which will put an end to Ukraine’s dreams to restore its borders”. As is known, a defeat is always an orphan, so western media are doing their utmost to explain Ukraine’s problems on the Zaporozhye front with the slow speed of weapons supply, whereas Russian has been building echeloned defenses for months».[v]

This is not a favorable background for holding a meeting of defense ministers, either for NATO, or Ukraine. Given the situation, the Ukrainian side is unrolling an information wave about the need to supply aircraft and create a “bird coalition” – a linguistic find from Ukraine’s Defense Minister Alexei Reznikov.

As Reznikov reported after the meeting, he had commitments from the allies about the start of exercises for Ukrainian pilots on western fighter jets: «Today I heard very important news about the so-called “bird coalition”, or “Fighter Jet Coalition”……Today we received commitments from our partners that the exercises would go ahead and that we would build the structure of this consortium of fighters together».[vi] According to Reznikov, the drill will begin on the F-16 fighters, it will be run by the Netherlands and Denmark at first, and will then be joined by other countries. Before Brussels, no one provided training for pilots. The general mood of this becomes clear from yet another statement by Reznikov: «You already know that we have a tank coalition, an air defense coalition, an artillery family, a multiple rocket launcher family. And I’m sure that today we will have a “bird coalition”. This means that Ukrainian forces will remain the eastern shield of Europe and the eastern shield of NATO».[vii] In order to understand Reznikov’s doglike delight better, here is a quotation from Ukrainian media about how the West’s support of Kyiv evolved: «The western countries, at the very start of the conflict in Ukraine, instead of granting assistance to Kyiv, told it to “dig trenches and kill as many Russians as possible before it all comes to a close", Foreign Affairs reports citing Ukrainian Defense Minister Alexei Reznikov. "We inquired: "Could we have the Stinger air defense system?". They replied: "No, dig trenches and kill as many Russians as possible, before it all comes to an end", - Reznikov pointed out».[viii]

However, Reznikov voiced a number of essential points before the meeting in Brussels: «This war is the war of resources. Resources mean not only weapons, but also the capacity to service and maintain them. Thus, the most important for us is the opening of various repair and maintenance hubs, both on the territory of Ukraine together with partners, and in friendly border countries».[ix]

Back to the “bird coalition”, a number of statements stand out:

  • «The supply of F-16 fighters to Ukraine is still not on the agenda, the Netherlands Minister of Defense Kajsa Ollongren said on Thursday. "This (the dispatch of F-16 to Ukraine – ed.) is the next step, but for this, we need a new decision, including from the USA….This issue is not on the agenda».[x]
  • As was reported on June 6, the Australian authorities contemplate a transfer to Ukraine of 41 written-off F/A 18-Hornet fighter jets. The issue, they pointed out, is currently under discussion between Kyiv and Washington. [xi]
  • Ukrainian Ambassador to Australia Vasily Miroshnichenko has reported that Kyiv requested Canberra to provide information on F-18 fighters, written off from the country’s Air Defense Forces. Earlier reports by Politico said that Ukraine’s allies are considering a handover of F-18 and F-16 fighters to Ukraine. According to the news edition, dozens of old F-18s will be available for export by the end of the decade, since Australia, Canada, Switzerland and Finland are switching to F-35s.[xii]
  • A Polish expert, ex-Commander of the Polish Land Forces, General Waldemar Skrzypczak, told the “Ukrinform” Agency that Ukraine will receive the F-16 fighters in 2 or 3 months, while for now, the Ukrainian offensive should be carried out on the basis of the machinery at disposal.[xiii]

The conclusion is not new – Ukraine will have fighter jets in the future. Just as it got Leopards and Bradleys. And this is something to get ready for. 

High on Kyiv’s agenda is membership in NATO. In the course of the June 15 meeting, western media made several posts to the effect that Kyiv had no chances to enter NATO in the foreseeable future. The Guardian reported that Ukraine will not be offered any specific plan on joining the North Atlantic alliance at a NATO summit in Lithuania in July. Instead, Kyiv will be promised a “shorter way” into NATO. Some members of NATO, acting “beyond the official structures of NATO”, will offer Kyiv security guarantees, which will likely “assume the form of wide-ranging commitments on the protection of Ukraine against attacks from Russia».[xiv] According to plans, NATO members will pledge to continue to supply munitions and assist Ukrainian armed forces in getting closer to NATO.

NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg could not say when Ukraine would be able to become a member of NATO. A precondition for it, he said, would be “victory in the conflict with Russia”.[xv] On June 14, ahead of the Brussels meeting, it became clear that the Biden administration is looking into the possibility for Ukraine to follow the “Israeli model” of cooperation, without entering NATO. [xvi] As western press writes, there is a search for mechanisms which would bring Ukraine closer to NATO without joining the alliance”.

In order not to promise such a membership and suggest a possible scenario, they brought in former Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who said that some NATO countries, for example, Poland and the Baltic countries, can dispatch troops to Ukraine if bloc countries are unable to grant Kyiv security guarantees: «If NATO fails to come to agreement on a clear way forward for Ukraine, some countries will probably take measures on an individual basis. We know that Poland is taking an active part in rendering assistance to Ukraine. I do not exclude that Poland will step up assistance on a nationwide basis, the Baltic countries will follow suit, including, among other things, by deploying troops on the territory of Ukriane».[xvii]

Rasmussen immediately faced disagreement from acting European officials. Chief of EU General Staff Hervé Bléjean, Commander of the EU training mission for Ukrainian military, said that deployment of NATO troops on the territory of Ukraine is not possible, the alliance has no such plans now and will not have any such plans in the future«This is out of the question. To dispatch land troops to Ukraine means becoming a party to the conflict and being at war with Russia. Nobody wants it, neither NATO, nor the European Union. We are not a party to the conflict and will not become one».[xviii] 

It was Ukraine that was ordered to “round up” the situation. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba, commenting on the words of NATO’s former Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen that a number of NATO countries might dispatch their forces to Ukraine, said that foreign states will not deploy troops on the territory of Ukraine before the end of the conflict: «Foreign countries will not deploy troops on the territory of our country before the end of the armed conflict. Moreover, we are not asking them to».[xix]

What they tried to achieve in terms of information and political gains at the Brussels meeting: 1. Prospects for Ukraine joining NATO are rather uncertain, there is no need to focus on this issue now; 2. Kyiv can count on further supplies of weapons; 3. There is no link between weapons supply and support from the West and success of Ukrainian counteroffensive.

On points 2 and 3 they said the following: «If the Ukrainians fail to strike substantial gains with the help of these maneuvers, it might cast doubt on the US long-term strategy on the strengthening of Ukraine by supplying it with yet more advanced weapons and training. In the opinion of European diplomats, a failure will look like a defeat of the Ukrainian army, which did not learn how to wage a war and lost the equipment it had been provided with in recent months. Despite the fierce defense on the part of Russia, American officials are optimistic in their belief that Ukraine will achieve sufficient successes, if only insignificant, to consider military operations successful. Both Ukraine and western allies invested in the counteroffensive, because, regardless of the outcome, it will lay a foundation for the next phase of the war».[xx] This is how, directly and persistently, Kyiv is being pushed to secure a further escalation of the conflict.

It is also necessary to note that Rasmussen let a word slip on the scenario of using second-wave proxy – the deployment of troops of separate NATO countries in Ukraine under this or that mandate means employing the Polish scenario, which has long been unmasked by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service.  

President Vladimir Putin has provided a clear and the most precise comment on the results of the Ukrainian-NATO meeting. About the main outcome – the “bird coalition”, the president said that if  the fighters in case of supplies to Kyiv are deployed on airbases beyond Ukraine and are used in combat operations, Moscow will think about how and where to strike at them, - he said at the International Economic Forum in St.Petersburg.[xxi] The Leopard tanks are burning in Ukraine, so the F-16 fighters will be burning too, the president said.

Our so-called “bitter partners” should also reflect on Vladimir Putin’s words about the “sanitation zone”. The president talked about it as he commented on the shelling of the Russian territory. As usual, he said less than meant. We cannot exclude that while talking about a specific problem, the president described one of the variants of achieving Special Military Operation objectives: the president proposed several variants of settling the problem of the shelling of Russian territory from Ukraine. In his words, it is possible to boost the effectiveness of counterbattery battle, but “this does not mean there will be no raids against our territory”, he said. “If this situation persists, then, we will have to think about – I put it very mildly – creating on the territory of Ukraine a sanitation zone at a distance from which it will be impossible to reach our territory».[xxii]

The Brussels meeting has produced no bright prospects for Ukraine, particularly amid the pathetic effect of the "shaping operations”, or the counteroffensive, which might have started or might not have started. What is clear is that Ukraine will continue to receive weapons, including aircraft, while the annoying and provoking effect from shelling and terrorist attacks against the Russian territories may technically modify some of the purposes of the Special Military Operation.


The opinion of the author may not coincide with the position of the Editorial



[ii] Ukraine 24/7






















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