10 Jul 2024, 16:42

NATO leaders seek to bolster Ukraine as gloom grows

WASHINGTON, July 10, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - 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

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.

- 'Greatest risk' -

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.

MORE/SSS/1628 hrs




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.

One new NATO leader is British Prime Minister Keir Starmer, who is visiting
days after taking office in a landslide victory by his Labour Party.

He will meet both Biden and Zelensky and is expected to confirm Britain's
strong support for Ukraine.

- Reassurances for Ukraine -

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.

Zelensky, who has achieved hero status in much of the West for his media-
savvy defiance of Russia, voiced open annoyance at the last NATO summit in
Lithuania at the failure to provide a clearer path to membership.

In Washington, the US is seeking to play down his expectations, speaking of
creating a "bridge" to membership but making clear quick entry is not on the

Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur said negotiations were ongoing on the
final language and that he was hopeful for a word such as "irreversible" to
describe Ukraine's path to NATO.

Putin has repeatedly accused the West of antagonizing Russia by entertaining
NATO membership for Ukraine, whose separate identity he has rejected.

Ukraine has also been clamoring for greater air defenses to protect cities
being barraged by Russia.

Biden promised Monday an additional Patriot system, on top of two new systems
being given by Germany and Romania and one which the Netherlands has said it
is putting together with parts from other allies.

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