NATO leaders vow to stand by Ukraine as doubts hang over Biden

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (L) and US President Joe Biden share a toast at a dinner with NATO allies and partners in the White House (SAUL LOEB)
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (L) and US President Joe Biden share a toast at a dinner with NATO allies and partners in the White House (SAUL LOEB)

NATO leaders pledged enduring support for Ukraine and commitment to their alliance as they wrapped up a three-day summit overshadowed by doubts over President Joe Biden's fitness to run crucial power the United States.

The 32-nation alliance used the pomp-filled 75th anniversary gala in the US capital to showcase its resolve against Russia two and half years into the Kremlin's invasion of its pro-Western neighbour.

But the gathering was clouded by uncertainty in the United States as Biden fights for his political survival.

"I will not walk away from Ukraine. I will keep NATO strong," Biden said in his closing press conference. "That's exactly what we did, and exactly what we'll continue to do now."

The US leader compared his commitment to the trans-Atlantic alliance to comments from his challenger, former president Donald Trump.

"My predecessor has made it clear he has no commitment to NATO. He's made it clear that he would feel no obligation to honor Article 5," Biden said, referring to the alliance's commitment of common defense.

Biden met Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky along with other NATO leaders on the third -- and final -- day of the summit after pledging new air defenses to help protect the war-torn country.

But Zelensky called on Kyiv's backers, especially the United States, to go further -- including by giving his outgunned forces greater scope to strike inside Russia.

"If we want to win, if we want to prevail, if we want to save our country and to defend it, we need to lift all the limitations," Zelensky said.

Key allies such as the United States and Germany relaxed conditions on Ukraine hitting inside Russia in May in response to Moscow's offensive toward the second city Kharkiv, but they kept in place some limits on how far and under which circumstances Kyiv could strike.

Biden said he taking advice from his military chiefs and evaluating on a "day to day basis" whether to make any adjustments.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was more definitive, saying "no one is planning to change the previous measures and guidelines."

"It remains our task to ensure that we provide Ukraine with maximum support, but prevent the war from escalating into a war between Russia and NATO," Scholz said.

NATO's leaders at the summit once again risked disappointing Zelensky by refusing to issue Ukraine a clear invitation to join their alliance.

But in a bid to soften any upset, leaders called Ukraine's path to membership "irreversible."

"We are doing and will continue to do everything to ensure that the day comes when Ukraine is invited and becomes a NATO member, and I am confident we will achieve this," Zelensky said.

- Missiles in Germany -

The United States also announced an important step to bolster NATO's own deterrence against Russia in Europe by saying it would begin "episodic deployments" of long-range missiles to Germany in 2026.

The White House said it would eventually look to permanently station them in Germany, and the missiles would "have significantly longer range" than current US systems in Europe.

The Kremlin struck back, saying it was planning "response measures" to contain the "very serious threat" from NATO, accusing the alliance of being "fully involved in the conflict over Ukraine."

CNN meanwhile reported that the United States foiled a Russian plot earlier this year to assassinate the chief executive of a major German arms maker supplying weaponry to Ukraine.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he did not want to comment on those specific reports.

But he said there has been "a Russian campaign organized by the security services to conduct hostile actions against NATO allies, across the alliance, with sabotage attempts, with cyber attacks, with arson, with different types of hostile actions."

- China 'enabling' Russia -

Ahead of the sit-down with Zelensky, NATO shifted attention eastwards by welcoming the leaders of Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

A strongly worded declaration from NATO released Wednesday called Beijing a "decisive enabler of Russia's war against Ukraine" through its supplies of dual-use goods such as microchips that can help Moscow's military.

China "cannot enable the largest war in Europe in recent history without this negatively impacting its interests and reputation," NATO leaders said.

Beijing hit back by warning NATO to "stop hyping up the so-called China threat and provoking confrontation and rivalry."

The United States has been pushing its European allies for years to pay closer attention to the challenges posed by China.

The Washington summit is the third such gathering attended by leaders from the four Asia-Pacific partners.

NATO agreed to several initiatives with the partner countries, including bolstering cooperation against cyberattacks and disinformation, and providing Ukraine non-lethal help.