NATO Allies Offer Ukraine Security Assurances as Biden Hits Out at ‘Craven’ Putin
13:04 JST, July 13, 2023
VILNIUS, July 12 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of having a “craven lust for land and power” at the end of a NATO summit on Wednesday where Ukraine won new security assurances from the U.S. and its allies for its defense against Moscow.
Members of the world’s most powerful military bloc offered the prospect of long-term protection a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy decried as “absurd” a refusal to offer an invitation or timetable for Ukraine’s entry into NATO.
Ukraine has been pushing for rapid membership while fighting a Russian invasion unleashed in February 2022 that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions.
Instead, a declaration by the G7 group of the world’s most industrialized countries launched a framework for bilateral negotiations to provide military and financial support, intelligence sharing and a promise of immediate steps if Russia should attack again.
“Our support will last long into the future. It’s a powerful statement of our commitment to Ukraine,” Biden said alongside Zelenskiy and leaders of the G7, which is made up of the U.S., Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.
Speaking in Vilnius, Lithuania, at the end of the two-day meeting on Russia’s doorstep, Biden said Putin had badly underestimated the resolve of the U.S.-led military alliance.
“NATO is stronger, more energized and yes, more united than ever in its history. Indeed, more vital to our shared future. It didn’t happen by accident. It wasn’t inevitable,” Biden said.
“When Putin, and his craven lust for land and power, unleashed his brutal war on Ukraine, he was betting NATO would break apart … But he thought wrong.”
Swallowing his disappointment over the lack of a membership timetable, Zelenskiy hailed NATO’s “practical and unprecedented support for Ukraine” and said that at the summit Ukraine had obtained “unambiguous clarity that Ukraine will be in NATO.”
He tweeted: “I believe we will be in NATO once the security situation stabilizes. Put simply, when the war is over, Ukraine will be invited into NATO and Ukraine will clearly become a member of the Alliance. I felt no thoughts of any other sort.”
At a meeting with Zelenskiy, Biden promised him the U.S. was doing everything it could to meet Ukraine’s needs and acknowledged Zelenskiy’s frustration about the scale and speed of support.
“Your resilience and your resolve has been a model for the whole world to see,” Biden said. “I look forward to the day when we’re having the meeting celebrating your official, official membership in NATO.”
“The bad news for you is, we’re not going anywhere. You’re stuck with us,” Biden joked, prompting laughter from Zelenskiy.
U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan had said Biden would discuss the issue of long-range missiles with Zelenskiy when they met.
Speaking to reporters later, Biden said: “One thing Zelenskiy understands now is that whether or not he’s in NATO now is not relevant” as long as he has the commitments that have been made at the summit. “He’s not concerned about that now.”
Zelenskiy told Biden he wanted to thank “all Americans” for the billions of dollars in aid his country had received.
British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said he had told Ukraine that its international allies were “not Amazon” and Kyiv needed to show gratitude for weapons donations to persuade Western politicians to give more.
Zelenskiy said: “We were always grateful to the UK, prime ministers and the minister of defense because the people are always supporting us.”
Britain, France, Germany and the U.S. have been negotiating with Kyiv for weeks over a broad international framework of support, encompassing modern advanced military equipment such as fighter jets, training, intelligence-sharing and cyberdefence.
In return Ukraine would pledge better governance, including through judicial and economic reforms and enhanced transparency.
The first sitting of a new NATO-Ukraine Council was also held on Wednesday, a format designed to tighten cooperation between Kyiv and the 31-nation alliance.
‘POTENTIALLY VERY DANGEROUS’
NATO is built around mutual security guarantees whereby an attack on one is an attack on all, and it has carefully avoided extending any firm military commitments to Ukraine, worried it would risk taking it closer to a full-on war with Russia.
Ukraine has been wary of any less-binding security “assurances,” given Russia’s invasion already trampled the so-called Budapest Memorandum under which international powers committed to keeping the country safe in exchange for Kyiv giving up its Soviet-era nuclear arms.
Speaking earlier alongside Zelenskiy, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Ukraine was closer to the alliance than ever before, and brushed aside new warnings from Russia about the consequences of supporting Ukraine.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the security arrangements for Ukraine were not designed to be a substitute for full NATO membership and said the commitments at the summit marked a high point for the West’s support for Kyiv.
Russia, which says NATO’s eastward expansion is an existential threat to its own security, swiftly lashed out.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was “potentially very dangerous” for the West to give Ukraine security guarantees.
The Russian foreign ministry said the summit showed that NATO was reverting to “Cold War schemes” and added that it would respond “in a timely and appropriate manner, using all means and methods at our disposal.”
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