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Monday July 22, 2024

NATO leaders seek to bolster Ukraine as gloom grows

By AFP
July 11, 2024
US President Joe Biden (first row centre) and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (first row third left) pose with other NATO leaders as they attend a NATO event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the alliance, in Washington, US July 9, 2024. — Reuters
US President Joe Biden (first row centre) and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (first row third left) pose with other NATO leaders as they attend a NATO event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the alliance, in Washington, US July 9, 2024. — Reuters 

WASHINGTON: NATO leaders meet Wednesday for their 75th anniversary, seeking ways to ramp up support for Ukraine as deadly Russian strikes and political uncertainties in the West stir new concerns.

With the pomp of a summit in Washington, President Joe Biden is aiming to rally the West and also reassure US voters amid intense pre-election scrutiny on whether at 81 -- six years older than the alliance -- he remains fit for the job.

Kicking off three days of events for the 32-nation alliance with a celebration Tuesday evening, Biden announced a new air defense system for Kyiv and urged unity against Russian President Vladimir Putin, who launched the Ukraine invasion in 2022. “Make no mistake. Ukraine can -- and will -- stop Putin,” Biden said forcefully to applause.

On the eve of the summit, Russia fired a barrage of missiles on Ukraine, killing dozens, including in Kyiv where a children´s hospital was reduced to debris.

Biden has invited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to the summit as well as the leaders of four key Pacific partners -- Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand -- as he seeks to increase NATO´s role in managing a rising China.

But the US president himself is facing a tough election challenge from Donald Trump, who has loudly questioned the utility of NATO and mused on forcing a peace deal in which Ukraine would surrender land to Russia. Zelensky in Washington thanked Ukraine´s backers for the promise of new air defenses -- and urged the United States and others to go further to help defeat Russia.

NATO´s outgoing secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg of Norway, acknowledged the question marks, after Trump´s allies in the US Congress forced a delay of months in approving new weapons for Ukraine.

“Ukraine has shown remarkable courage and NATO allies have provided unprecedented support. But let´s be honest -- not even our support for Ukraine has been a given,” Stoltenberg said.

“Remember -- the biggest cost and the greatest risk will be if Russia wins in Ukraine. We cannot let that happen.”

Other leaders attending the summit include Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, one of Putin´s closest partners in the West, who ahead of Washington went to Ukraine, Russia and China on a self-described peace mission criticized by Brussels and Washington.

Another Asian partner of the US, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, met Putin on the eve of the NATO summit and is not part of the Washington talks.

Leaders on Wednesday will formally convene the alliance´s North Atlantic Council inside downtown Washington´s convention center. Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will later welcome their counterparts for gala dinners around the Washington area, which is in the throes of a searing heat wave.

Ukraine has been seeking firm assurances that it will one day join NATO, which considers an attack on any member an attack on all.

Ukraine´s membership enjoys wide backing from Baltic and Eastern European nations still haunted by decades under the Soviet yoke.

But Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have led opposition, concerned that the alliance would effectively be entering war with nuclear-armed Russia as it occupies swathes of Ukraine.