Biden speaks ahead of leaving highly consequential NATO summit

In a news conference held before his departure, Biden touted the historic nature of the summit, which saw formal invitations extended to Sweden and Finland and promises to ramp up NATO’s resources on its eastern flank.

“This summit was about strengthening our alliance, meeting the challenges of our world as it is today and the threats we’re going to face in the future,” Biden said.

Unclear is whether any of the steps taken to respond to the war in Ukraine at this week’s meetings in Europe — new sanctions, more military aid and a reinvigorated NATO — can change the battlefield momentum that currently favors Russia.

With Russia bogged down in a long-term conflict of attrition, NATO leaders leave here having taken historic steps to address a fundamentally altered security situation. It has given the organization a renewed sense of purpose after years wavering on how to approach Russia.

The alliance is poised to grow larger after formally inviting Finland and Sweden to join. The path was cleared for the two countries, each with long histories of military non-alignment, after Turkey dropped its objections, giving this summit a somewhat unexpected boost as it commenced.

Leaders made major enhancements of NATO’s force posture along its eastern edge, increasing the number of high-alert troops by sevenfold. Biden announced new rotational deployments of US troops in the Baltics and Romania, new ships to Spain and planes to the United Kingdom, and for the first time a permanent Army garrison headquarters in Poland.

After dancing around the issue for years, NATO made clear in its updated mission statement that Russia now poses the “most significant threat to Allied security.” And it mentioned China for the first time, saying the budding partnership between Moscow and Beijing “runs counter to our values.”

Taken together, the accomplishments amount to a foundational shift for the alliance, which has struggled for years to determine the best way to approach Russia. President Vladimir Putin, fearing the eastward expansion of the alliance, now faces a far more united collective.

“He wanted less NATO,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said this week. “Now President Putin is getting more NATO on his borders.”

Even an expanded and more muscular NATO, however, may not be enough to quickly bring fighting to an end in Ukraine.

While the buzzword of this week’s summit in Europe was “unity,” there remain private disagreements among leaders about the next phase of the war. While some are pushing for a decisive battlefield victory, others believe more robust attempts at brokering a settlement must be made, particularly amid economic fallout at home.

“The consensus is that the war in Ukraine will go on for an extended period of time,” US director of national intelligence Avril Haines told a conference Wednesday, offering a bleak assessment in the near-term of what has become a grinding conflict.

Haines said Putin likely believes time is on Russia’s side because he believes the West will eventually tire of supporting Ukraine. “None of this bodes well for a peaceful resolution,” she said, acknowledging that the US assessment of the situation is “grim.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged NATO leaders to help him regain the initiative during an address to the summit Wednesday, pleading for more modern artillery and sustained support to battle the Russians.

“The war should not drag on. To break the advantage of Russian artillery, we need a lot more of these modern systems, modern artillery,” Zelensky said.

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