December 3, 2023

MADRID – In the face of an aggressive new Russia, NATO leaders Wednesday outlined a powerful new vision that identifies Moscow as the primary opponent of the military alliance, but also declares for the first time that China is a strategic “challenge.”

It was a fundamental shift for an alliance that arose in the Cold War but came to see post-Soviet Russia as a potential ally, not focusing on China at all.

But that was before February 24, when Russian troops poured across the border into Ukraine, and Chinese leaders clearly did not join the global condemnation that followed.

“Deepening the strategic partnership between the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation and their mutual attempts to undermine the rules-based international order run counter to our values ​​and interests,” NATO leaders said in a statement. New mission statement Issued during their summit in Madrid.

The announcement came on a day when a senior US intelligence official said victory in Ukraine was not yet in Russia’s hands, the two sides said they had exchanged more than 200 prisoners of war, and a Ukrainian official said: “There are battles everywhere.”

In a series of steps at the Madrid summit, which ends on Thursday, President Biden and other NATO leaders sought to strike back at Russian President Vladimir V. Just before the mission statement was published, they extended formal invitations for membership to the hitherto nonaligned Nordic countries Finland and Sweden, paving the way for the most significant NATO expansion in more than a decade.

“The moment Putin shatters the peace in Europe and attacks the very principles of the rules-based order, the United States and our allies – we will step up,” Biden said. “We are advancing.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has announced that thousands of new troops will be deployed in eight countries on NATO’s eastern flank. Mr. Biden said Washington would deploy an Army garrison headquarters and a field support battalion to Poland, the first of the US forces permanently stationed in NATO’s eastern flank.

China gave a lukewarm response to the new NATO moves.

“We oppose some elements that demand NATO’s intervention in the Asia-Pacific region, or the Asia-Pacific version of NATO based on the military alliance,” said China’s ambassador to the United Nations, Zhang Jun. . Unrest must not be allowed in parts of the world in the Asia-Pacific region.”

Mr. Putin, for his part, has kept his interest in Central Asia, where he was visiting in support of Moscow – and more importantly now that the West has moved to make Russia a pariah state.

In an apparently calculated part of the Kremlin’s counterprogram, the Russian president attended a summit of his own: a meeting in Turkmenistan of the five countries bordering the Caspian Sea. He flew to Turkmenistan early on Wednesday from Tajikistan on the second leg of a two-day trip that took him out of Russia for the first time since the start of the Ukraine war in February. It was also the first overseas trip he had taken overnight since the pandemic began.

In a brief speech to other leaders at the summit, including the presidents of Kazakhstan, Iran and Azerbaijan, Mr. Putin spoke about issues of trade, tourism, fisheries and the environment, although he did not say a word about NATO or Ukraine.

But later in the day, meeting with reporters after the summit ended, Putin mocked the importance of Finland and Sweden joining NATO — all while issuing a warning.

“If military units and infrastructure are deployed there, we will have to reciprocate and create the same threats against the regions from which the threats against us originate,” Mr. Putin said. “Obviously. What, don’t they understand?”

Ukrainian leaders praised the NATO news.

“We welcome a clear position on Russia, as well as the accession of Finland and Sweden,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter. “An equally strong and active stance on Ukraine will help protect security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic region.”

But it was not at all clear whether developments this week might help Ukraine turn the tide in a war in which its forces are still outnumbered and under-armed. Mr. Putin appeared unmoved by foreign condemnations and sanctions as his forces used their superior artillery to bombard Ukrainian cities into submission.

Ukrainian and Western officials said Wednesday that Moscow will send thousands more soldiers and heavy weapons to eastern Ukraine as it struggles to claim the last patch of Ukrainian sovereign territory in the eastern Luhansk province.

“There are battles everywhere,” he said. Serhi HeidiHead of the Luhansk Regional Military Administration. “Everywhere the enemy is trying to break through the line of defense. They are trying to destroy all settlements, and only enter the area later, not the settlement.”

He said the Russians were using rocket-propelled grenade launchers, artillery, mortars, tanks, launchers, and long-range missiles to purge the land of life so that their infantry could advance.

Scorched-earth tactics have enabled the Russians to move closer to Ukrainian positions within the city of Lyschansk in Luhansk Province, as part of Moscow’s campaign to claim the entirety of the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. But even with the notable expenditure of ammunition, gains have been slow.

Russian officials have rejected allegations of atrocities against civilians in Ukraine, insisting that they limit their attacks to legitimate military targets.

But across the country, civilian deaths are increasing day by day in smaller scale attacks that kill a handful of people at once. Even in cities and towns far from the fiercest battles of the war, the number of civilian casualties rose steadily.

“They may go to military structures, but they mostly hit civilian infrastructure,” Vitaly Kim, governor of the Mykolaiv region in southern Ukraine, said at a news briefing on Wednesday. “I think they are trying to intimidate the locals and demoralize our army.”

In her first public update in more than a month, the Biden administration’s Director of National Intelligence, Avril D. Haines, on Wednesday said Mr. Putin still seemed to aim to capture most of Ukraine, but in the short term a breakthrough by Russian forces in the east of the country remained unlikely. Ms. Haines said the consensus in US intelligence agencies is that the war is likely to go on for a long time.

With no sign of a ceasefire imminent, Ukraine announced the largest prisoner-of-war exchange since Russia launched its invasion, among them dozens of Ukrainian soldiers who defended the Russian blockade of Mariupol, the southern port city that has become an icon. From the Ukrainian challenge.

While the exchange was shrouded in secrecy, Denis Pushlin, the commander of Russian-backed separatist forces in the Donetsk region of Donbass, said 144 Russian soldiers and proxy forces were returned in exchange for 144 Ukrainians.

NATO’s expansion came after protracted negotiations with Turkey, a member of the alliance that had raised objections. Although it was not clear on Wednesday exactly what persuaded Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to change his stance, evidence emerged. Some related to Turkey’s concerns about Kurdish separatists.

Swedish Foreign Minister Anne Lind said that Sweden and Finland have formally agreed not to provide support to Kurdish organizations or other organizations that could harm Turkey’s security, whether with weapons or any other aid.

“We don’t do that today either, but now it’s clearly written,” Ms Linde told Sweden Radio. She said her country would continue to provide humanitarian support to the Kurds and others in northeastern Syria.

Sweden and Finland will also lift the unofficial arms embargo imposed on Turkey in 2019 following Turkey’s intervention in northern Syria. As new members of NATO, Ms Linde said, both countries will have “new commitments to allies, and this applies to Turkey as well”.

On Wednesday, the United States expressed its new willingness to sell modernized F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, close to meeting the long-standing ally’s demand.

US officials insisted that the change had nothing to do with NATO expansion.

Contribute to reporting Anton Troyanovsky from Paris; Michael Schwartz from Athens; Ivan Nikiburnko from Tbilisi, Georgia; Megan Specia from Lviv, Ukraine; Julian E. Barnes from Washington; And the Mark Santora from Warsaw.

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