THE HAGUE - The outgoing Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, has won the race to become the next head of Nato at a perilous moment for the western alliance, after his only rival pulled out of the race.

The long-serving Dutch leader is expected to be confirmed formally as Nato’s secretary general in the coming days and take over when the incumbent head, Jens Stoltenberg, steps down on 1 October after nearly a decade in charge.

Rutte’s imminent appointment comes as Ukraine faces relentless pressure from Russian bombardment in its eastern regions, while Nato-sceptic Donald Trump vies for another term in the White House.

Rutte, 57, is a strong supporter of Ukraine and quickly won the support of key Nato countries, including the United States, the UK, France and Germany, after he threw his hat in the ring following his decision to retire from Dutch politics.

Although he is a critic of Vladimir Putin, Rutte could be perceived as less hawkish than possible candidates from central and eastern Europe, making him a near consensus choice.

But to secure the job that requires unanimous agreement of Nato’s 32 members, he had to win an endorsement from an initially wary Turkey, then overcome opposition from Hungary.

The final hurdle to his appointment fell on Thursday when the Romanian president, Klaus Iohannis, announced he was withdrawing from the race. Romania will back Rutte and donate one of its two operational Patriot missile systems to Ukraine on condition that allies replace it with a similar air-defence system, Bucharest’s Supreme Defence Council, chaired by Iohannis, said.

Earlier in the week Rutte persuaded Viktor Orbán to support his bid, overcoming years of tensions between the EU’s two longest serving leaders over democratic standards in Hungary and EU spending. At a meeting in Brussels, Rutte gave the Hungarian leader assurances that no Hungarian troops or money would be deployed in Ukraine.

After that meeting, Orbán said: “We reached an important agreement with Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg. We agreed that no Hungarian personnel will take part in the activities of Nato in Ukraine and no Hungarian funds will be used to support them.

“Our next step this week was to ensure that this agreement can stand the test of time. After yesterday’s meeting in Brussels, PM Mark Rutte confirmed that he fully supports this deal and will continue to do so, should he become the next secretary general of Nato.”