MADRID (NYTIMES) – President Joe Biden vowed on Thursday (June 30) that the United States and Nato would support Ukraine for as long as necessary to repel Russia’s invasion, despite waves of economic pain rolling through world markets and voters’ homes, saying it was the Kremlin that had miscalculated in its aggression, and not the West in opposing it.
Speaking at a news conference at the close of a summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) in Madrid, Mr Biden said that Americans and the rest of the world would have to pay more for petrol and energy as a price of containing Russian aggression.
“As long as it takes, so Russia cannot in fact defeat Ukraine and move beyond Ukraine,” he said.
But his remarks underscored the kaleidoscope of problems that he and other Nato leaders face in keeping their people committed to backing up Ukraine with money, weapons and sanctions against Russia, despite the damage it is doing to Western economies and an uncertain outcome on the battlefield.
“You can already see in the media that interest is going down, and that is also affecting the public, and the public is affecting the politicians,” said Ms Ann Linde, Sweden’s foreign minister. “So it is our responsibility to keep Ukraine and what Russia is doing high up on our agenda. We’ve seen this so many times – you have a catastrophe, you have a war, and it just continues, but it slides away.”
The 30-member states of Nato capped an important, even transformative summit in Madrid this week, taking the first step to admitting Sweden and Finland, emphasising their unity in support of Ukraine and approving plans to markedly increase the alliance’s forces in countries on its eastern flank, closest to Russia and its ally, Belarus.
The decisions, all prompted by the Russian invasion, are expected to strengthen the alliance, especially in its ability to defend the Baltic nations, while extending its border with Russia significantly.
Russian President Vladimir Putin set out to fragment Nato and prevent its expansion, but Mr Biden said that before the war began, he warned Mr Putin that if he invaded Ukraine, “Nato would not only get stronger, but would get more united, and we would see the democracies in the world stand up and oppose his aggression and defend the rules-based order”.
That, he said, was “exactly what we’re seeing today”.
But he and the leaders face economic crises, division at home and increasingly weary voters.
Fuel prices are soaring, driven by the war, high inflation and Western efforts to punish Moscow through its main exports, oil and gas.
The US, distracted and polarised by major court rulings, hearings on the Capitol riot and coming elections, is on the brink of recession.
German leaders are warning of a potentially desperate energy crisis, and food prices are rising as Russia blocks critical exports from Ukraine.
Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy had to leave the summit to help shore up his political coalition, which is in part deeply unhappy over his firm support for Ukraine and the costs that entails.
Ms Anna Wieslander, the Swedish director for Northern Europe for the Atlantic Council, said that although support for Ukraine had mostly held across the alliance, it was uneven: strongest in nations with long experience and deep fears of Russian domination, such as Poland and the Baltic states, and more difficult to maintain in countries such as Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Greece.
Ukraine’s leaders continue to plead for more arms, delivered faster, to beat back Russia’s slow advance. President Volodymyr Zelensky, addressing the Nato leaders, said this week that Ukraine needed some US$5 billion (S$6.9 billion) a month just to keep his government functioning.
The announcement of a vastly expanded Nato reaction force, of about 300,000 troops or more, rather than the current 40,000, also illustrated the challenge Western leaders face in realising their rhetoric.
The allies must consult on which troops will be part of the force, spend money to equip them, train them and decide on the logistics of deployments – a process likely to take at least a year.
“A lot needs to be done by different countries, and it will take a lot of working through” to develop an integrated force that could fight a major land war in Europe, said Mr Malcolm Chalmers, deputy director of the Royal United Services Institute, a military research group in Britain.