May 26, 2024


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NATO calls Russia its ‘most significant and direct threat’

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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg center, flanked by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, right, and U.S President Joe Biden open the first plenary session of the NATO summit in Madrid, Wednesday, June 29, 2022. North Atlantic Treaty Organization heads of state will meet for a NATO summit in Madrid from Tuesday through Thursday. (Bertrand Guay, Pool via AP)

MADRID (AP) — NATO declared Russia the “most significant and direct threat” to its members’ peace and security on Wednesday and vowed to strengthen support for Ukraine, even as that country’s leader chided the alliance for not doing more to help it defeat Moscow.

The alliance’s condemnation was not wholly surprising: Its chief earlier said Russia’s war in Ukraine had created Europe’s biggest security crisis since World War II. But it was a sobering about-face for an organization that once called Moscow a strategic partner.

NATO held its annual summit in Madrid in a world transformed by Russia’s invasion. The war pushed the alliance to pour troops and weapons into eastern Europe on a scale not seen since the Cold War and has driven what Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called “the biggest overhaul of our collective defense since the end of the Cold War.”

But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged even more. He asked for more modern artillery systems and other weapons and warned the leaders that they either had to provide Kyiv with the help it needed to defeat Russia or “face a delayed war between Russia and yourself.”

“The question is who’s next? Moldova? Or the Baltics? Or Poland? The answer is: all of them,” he said. “We are deterring Russia to prevent it from destroying us and from destroying you.”

Zelenskyy also lamented that NATO’s open-door policy to new members did not appear to apply to his country.

“The open-door policy of NATO shouldn’t resemble the old turnstiles on Kyiv’s subway, which stay open but close when you approach them until you pay,” Zelenskyy said by video link to the leaders of the 30 NATO nations meeting in Madrid. “Hasn’t Ukraine paid enough?”

Zelenskyy has acknowledged that NATO membership is a distant prospect. Under NATO treaties, an attack on any member would trigger a military response by the entire alliance, so it is trying to strike a delicate balance, letting its member nations arm Ukraine without sparking a direct confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia.

NATO has moved quickly to ensure that its members are protected, dramatically scaling up military force along its eastern flank.

It agreed to increase almost eightfold the size of the alliance’s rapid reaction force, from 40,000 to 300,000 troops, by next year. The troops will be based in their home nations but dedicated to specific countries on NATO’s eastern flank, where the alliance plans to build up stocks of equipment and ammunition.

The defense organization is also on track to gain two new members in Sweden and Finland, both of whom were formally invited on Wednesday to join the alliance. The two Nordic nations abandoned their long-held nonaligned status earlier this year and applied to join NATO as protection against an increasingly aggressive and unpredictable Russia.

U.S. President Joe Biden, whose country provides the bulk of NATO’s military power, vowed the summit would send “an unmistakable message … that NATO is strong and united.”

“We’re stepping up. We’re proving that NATO is more needed now than it ever has been,” said Biden. He announced a hefty boost in America’s military presence in Europe, including a permanent U.S. base in Poland, two more Navy destroyers based in Rota, Spain, and two more F35 squadrons to the U.K.

Still, strains among NATO allies have also emerged as the cost of energy and other essential goods has skyrocketed, partly because of the the war and tough Western sanctions on Russia. There also are tensions over how the war will end and what, if any, concessions Ukraine should make to stop the fighting.

Money remains a sensitive issue — just nine of NATO’s 30 members currently meet the organization’s target of spending 2% of gross domestic product on defense.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose country does hit the target, urged NATO allies “to dig deep to restore deterrence and ensure defense in the decade ahead.”

The leaders also published NATO’s new Strategic Concept, its once-a-decade set of priorities and goals.

The last such document, in 2010, called Russia a “strategic partner.” At the time, the idea of Russia waging a land war on NATO’s borders would have sounded far-fetched.

Now, NATO accused Russia of using “coercion, subversion, aggression and annexation” to extend its reach.

“NATO does not seek confrontation and poses no threat to the Russian Federation,” the document said. “We will continue to respond to Russian threats and hostile actions in a united and responsible way.”

The document also set out NATO’s approach on issues from cybersecurity to climate change — and the growing economic and military reach of China.

While it did not call China an adversary, NATO said Beijing’s “stated ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values.”

For the first time, the leaders of Japan, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand are attending the summit as guests, a reflection of the growing importance of Asia and the Pacific region.

The summit opened with one problem solved, after Turkey agreed Tuesday to lift its opposition to Sweden and Finland joining NATO.

NATO operates by consensus, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to block the Nordic pair, insisting they change their stance on Kurdish rebel groups that Turkey considers terrorists.

After urgent top-level talks with leaders of the three countries, Stoltenberg said the impasse had been cleared.

Turkey hailed Tuesday’s agreement as a triumph, saying the Nordic nations had agreed to crack down on groups that Ankara deems national security threats, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is also considered a terrorist group by the U.S. and the EU, and its Syrian extension.

The two countries’ accession has to be ratified by all individual nations, but he said he was “absolutely confident” Finland and Sweden would become members quickly.

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