The United States will host a meeting in Germany on Friday to discuss further support for Ukraine after President Volodymyr Zelensky pushed Western allies to send more fighter jets and long-range missiles.

Representatives from around 50 countries will gather at the US Ramstein Air Base to coordinate their backing for Kyiv, as battles with Russia rage in the east of the country.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who will attend the meeting, was in the Ukrainian capital on Thursday -- his first visit since the start of Russia’s invasion in February 2022.

Zelensky took the opportunity to press NATO to invite Kyiv to join the alliance and ramp up military support for Ukraine’s army.

The Ukrainian president asked for NATO’s help to “overcome the reluctance” of some member states in providing long-range rockets, modern fighter jets and armoured vehicles.

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NATO members have sent some Soviet-era fighter jets to Ukraine, but no modern planes such as the US-designed F-16 have been pledged despite Ukraine’s requests.

Ukraine’s Western supporters have also been reluctant to send long-range rockets because of concerns that Ukraine could use them to hit targets within Russia.

- Air defence -

Earlier in the week, Ukraine said it had received the first shipment of Patriots, seen as one of the most advanced US air defence systems.

Germany likewise delivered a Patriot battery to Ukraine as well as a promised Iris-T anti-air missile system.

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The kit has been one of Kyiv’s key asks from Western allies as it looks to defend itself from Russian missile attacks and roll back Moscow’s invasion.

In eastern Ukraine’s Lugansk region, AFP saw a group of servicemen using British-supplied artillery.

Several kilometres from Russian positions, they worked the artillery piece dug into the ground.

One hauled shells to the UK-made gun from a nearby cache, while others set coordinates and loaded the barrel before the final order to “Fire!“.

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“There are the planned targets that we work on. And some appear unexpectedly, for example, to repel an assault when the enemy advances,” said Bogdan, a 40-year-old Ukrainian serviceman from the embattled town of Bakhmut.

“The enemy is using few military vehicles. Infantry, which is what the enemy has plenty of, goes forward,” he said.

- NATO bid -

On the visit to Kyiv, Stoltenberg said NATO would “ensure that Ukraine prevails” against Russia.

“NATO stands with Ukraine today, tomorrow, and for as long as it takes,” he declared.

Ukraine says Russia’s invasion adds extra justification to its campaign to join the alliance, expressing frustration that the West has not given it guarantees or a timeframe for eventual membership.

Zelensky said a NATO summit in July “could become historic” if Ukraine received a formal invitation to join.

“It is time to take the appropriate decision,” Zelensky said at a press conference with Stoltenberg.

He said the “majority of people in NATO countries and the majority of Ukrainians support the entry of our country into the alliance”.

The NATO leader did not hold out any immediate prospect of alliance membership, but said the subject would be “high on the agenda” of the July summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.

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“Let me be clear: Ukraine’s rightful place is in the Euro-Atlantic family; Ukraine’s rightful place is in NATO,” he said.

“Over time, our support will help you make this possible.”

Moscow says it sees Ukraine’s NATO membership bid as an existential threat.

Russia also believes NATO’s deliveries of military aid to Kyiv are proof that the alliance and the United States are waging a war by proxy in Ukraine.

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