NATO Backs Ukraine Taking Territory Back From Russia Despite Nuclear Risk

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg showed support for Ukraine on Friday in taking back territory that was recently claimed by Russia.

"Ukraine has, of course, the right to retake Ukrainian territory that is now occupied by Russian forces. That's the reason why we support them. So they can defend themself but also so they can continue to liberate territory. And as I said, the illegal annexation or attempt of annexing Ukrainian territory doesn't change that. It doesn't change the nature of this conflict," Stoltenberg said.

Stoltenberg went on to state that if NATO's support of Ukraine was deterred by the annexation and the threat of nuclear escalation, they would be accepting "nuclear blackmailing."

"Then we accept that by threatening of using nuclear weapons, authoritarian powers like Russia can achieve exactly what they want," Stoltenberg added.

The comments by Stoltenberg come shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he was claiming four new Ukrainian territories as part of Russia. Putin asserted that the regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, as well as the Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic, now belonged to Russia.

NATO Secretary-General
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg gives a press conference on Russia's annexation of four occupied regions in Ukraine, on September 30. Stoltenberg also said that NATO will support Ukraine's efforts to retake regions that were annexed by Russia. KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images

In response to Putin's annexation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that he was applying for an "accelerated" entry into NATO.

"We know it's possible. We have seen Finland and Sweden start accession to the Alliance this year without a Membership Action Plan," Zelensky said in a statement. "We understand that this requires the consensus of all members of the Alliance. We understand that it is necessary to reach such a consensus. And therefore, while this is happening, we offer to implement our proposals regarding security guarantees for Ukraine and all of Europe in accordance with the Kyiv Security Compact, which was developed and presented to our partners."

During the press conference on Friday afternoon, Stoltenberg was asked about Zelensky's application. While the NATO Secretary-General did not explicitly state that Ukraine will immediately join the alliance, he said, "We support Ukraine's right to choose its own path, to decide what kind of security arrangements it wants to be a part of."

Stoltenberg also said on Friday that Russia's annexation of the four Ukrainian territories is the "most serious escalation," of the ongoing conflict but shows that "Putin has utterly failed in his strategic objectives."

"Putin bears full responsibility for this war. And it is his responsibility to end it," Stoltenberg said. "If Russia stops fighting, there will be peace. If Ukraine stops fighting, it will cease to exist as an independent sovereign nation in Europe."

While speaking with Newsweek on Friday, Max Bergmann, the director of the Europe Program and the Stuart Center in Euro-Atlantic and Northern European Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that since Russia started the conflict by invading Ukraine, "the Ukrainians have no choice but to keep on fighting."

"I think we're at a moment where the Ukrainians simply have to keep going," Bergmann told Newsweek. "The last thing that anyone wants is potentially a nuclear war…the current territories that the Russians occupy would basically make the Ukrainian state insolvent and it would enable Russia to have leverage over Ukraine indefinitely into the future, prevent its NATO membership, prevent its EU membership [and] basically hold Ukraine back."

Newsweek reached out to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry for comment.