BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO defense ministers attending a two-day meeting starting Wednesday will discuss boosting arms supplies to Ukraine and Sweden and Finland’s bids to join the transatlantic military alliance, said Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

The meeting, less than two weeks before a summit of NATO leaders in Madrid, comes with Kyiv pleading with the West to send more and heavier weapons to help repel Russia’s assault in the east from Ukraine.

“The Allies are determined to continue to provide the military equipment Ukraine needs to prevail, including heavy weapons and long-range systems,” Stoltenberg said.

He added that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy would be invited to address the Madrid summit on June 29-30, either in person or via video conference.

Increased arms supplies cannot come soon enough for Ukrainian forces to fight to prevent Russia from taking control of their country’s industrial east after more than 3.5 months of war.

Political cartoons about world leaders

political cartoons

In his nightly address to the nation, Zelenskyy on Tuesday pleaded for more and faster deliveries of Western weapons, specifically asking for missile defense systems.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is hosting a meeting of about 50 countries at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss arms deliveries to Ukraine.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said on Tuesday that the invaded nation’s army had received only about 10% of the Western weapons it had requested “to create parity with the Russian army. “.

“No matter how hard Ukraine tries, no matter how professional our army is, without the help of Western partners we cannot win this war,” Malyar told a televised news conference.

She said Ukraine uses 5,000 to 6,000 artillery shells a day, while Russia uses 10 times more.

The NATO meeting opens with a working dinner on Wednesday evening during which ministers will meet with their counterparts from Ukraine, as well as Georgia, Sweden, Finland and the European Union.

“It will be an opportunity for Defense Minister (Oleksii) Reznikov to brief us on what Ukraine urgently needs. And for NATO allies to make further announcements of support for Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said.

Defense ministers meeting this week also plan to discuss moves to bolster forces along NATO’s eastern flank and elsewhere, which have accelerated since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“This will mean more presence, more capabilities and greater readiness, with more combat formations deployed forward from NATO to reinforce our battlegroups in the East, more air, sea and cyber defences, pre-positioned equipment and stockpiles of weapons,” Stoltenberg said.

He would not commit to a timetable for the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is blocking membership applications as he accuses Nordic countries of supporting Kurdish militants Turkey considers terrorists.

“My goal is to resolve this issue as soon as possible, but as we are multiple nations involved in this process, there is no way of telling you exactly when we will resolve it,” Stoltenberg said.

Due to Turkey’s concerns, “it will take longer than initially planned,” he said.

Erdogan signaled on Wednesday that he would not back down.

“We will certainly not change our position until Sweden and Finland take clear, concrete and determined steps in the fight against terrorism,” Erdogan said in a speech to lawmakers from his ruling party.

The 30 members of NATO must agree to admit new members.

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told a meeting in Oslo on Wednesday that the ambition of the NATO summit in Madrid was to ensure “that Sweden and Finland successfully take the next step towards ‘membership of NATO’.

“I think it’s very important that we listen to and understand Turkey’s concerns and work towards a position where Turkey will support membership and indeed we can alleviate all those concerns,” Wallace said.

He added that the West must do more to support the Ukrainians who are struggling against the advances of much better equipped Russians.

“The Ukrainian forces in the east of the country, some of them have been on this front line for 90 days. They are exhausted. They are often, in terms of artillery, outnumbered at very, very high ratios “, did he declare.

Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed.

Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.