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NATO ministers mull 100 billion euro military fund for Ukraine

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Alliance looks to put aid to Kyiv on long-term footing

Ministers will also mark NATO's 75th anniversary

Discussions on Stoltenberg proposal in early stages

More time needed to pick next NATO boss

By Andrew Gray and John Irish

BRUSSELS, April 3 (Reuters) -NATO foreign ministers meet on Wednesday to discuss how to put military support for Ukraine on a long-term footing, including a proposal for a 100 billion euro ($107 billion) five-year fund and a plan seen as a way to "Trump-proof" aid for Kyiv.

The proposals by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg would give the Western alliance a more direct role in coordinating the supply of arms, ammunition and equipment to Ukraine as it fights Russia's invasion, diplomats say.

The plans will be discussed during a two-day meeting in Brussels that will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and prepare for a summit of alliance leaders in Washington in July.

The meeting will provide insight into how far Ukraine's European allies are willing to go to support Kyiv's war effort as a military aid package for Ukraine worth some $60 billion remains stalled in the U.S. Congress.

Under the plans, NATO would take over some coordination work from a U.S.-led ad-hoc coalition known as the Ramstein group - a move designed in part to guard against any cut in U.S. support if Donald Trump returns to the White House, diplomats said.

Until now, NATO as an organisation has focused on non-lethal aid for Ukraine out of fears that a more direct role could trigger an escalation of tensions with Russia. Its members have provided billions of dollars in arms on a bilateral basis.

Diplomats said there was a growing view within NATO that it was time to put military aid to Ukraine on a more sustainable footing and NATO was best placed to do that.

Some said that threats by Russian President Vladimir Putin that he would regard various steps taken by NATO allies as escalatory - such as providing tanks and other advanced weapons systems - had not led to retaliation against them.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who will attend the Brussels meeting, said in Paris on Tuesday that NATO was looking at measures that could serve as the "necessary bridge" to membership of the alliance for Ukraine.

NATO has stated that Ukraine cannot join while it is at war with Russia but that it will become a member at some point.

NATO declined to comment in detail on Stoltenberg's proposals but a NATO official said the ministers would "discuss the best way to organise NATO's support for Ukraine, to make it more powerful, predictable and enduring".

"No final decisions are to be taken at the April ministerial meetings, and discussions will continue as we approach the Washington summit in July," the official said, declining to be named.


Diplomats cautioned that discussions on the proposal were at an early stage and it was unclear whether the 100 billion euro figure would be accepted or how it would be financed. NATO decisions require consensus among the alliance's 32 members.

"It goes some way to protecting in case of Trump. But it is impossible to create something Trump-proof," another diplomat said of the plan to transfer work to NATO from the Ramstein group, named after a U.S. air base where it often meets but known formally as the Ukraine Defense Contact Group.

"A fund of 100 billion looks very optimistic," the diplomat added.

The meeting comes as NATO is seeking a new leader to succeed Stoltenberg, who has been in post for nearly 10 years.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has the backing of a some 90% of NATO members for the job - including the United States, France, Britain and Germany - according to diplomats.

But he faces opposition from Hungary - which objects to his criticism of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government - and a late challenge from Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.

Some diplomats had hoped to choose Stoltenberg's successor at the Brussels meeting but they said more time would now be needed. Several expressed confidence, however, that Rutte would be appointed in the end.

($1 = 0.9288 euros)

Reporting by Andrew Gray; Editing by Stephen Coates


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