February 26, 2024

MADRID – President Biden pledged Thursday that the United States and NATO would support Ukraine for as long as necessary to fend off a Russian invasion, despite waves of economic pain that swept global markets and voters’ homes, saying it was the Kremlin who miscalculated. Aggression and not the West in opposition.

Speaking at a news conference at the conclusion of the NATO summit in Madrid, Mr. Biden said Americans and the rest of the world should pay more for gasoline and energy as a price to contain Russian aggression. How long? “As long as it takes, Russia cannot in fact defeat Ukraine and bypass Ukraine,” he said.

But his comments highlight the array of problems he and other NATO leaders face in maintaining their people’s commitment to backing Ukraine with money, weapons, and sanctions against Russia, despite the damage it is doing to Western economies and the uncertain outcome on the battlefield.

“You can already see in the media that interest is dropping, and that also affects the public, the public affects politicians,” said Anne Linde, Sweden’s foreign minister. So, it is our responsibility to keep Ukraine and what Russia is doing high on our agenda. We’ve seen this many times – you have a disaster, you have a war, and it goes on, but it slips away.”

The 30 NATO member states wrapped up an important, even transformative summit in Madrid this week, taking the first step to accepting Sweden and Finland, emphasizing their unity in support of Ukraine and approving plans to significantly increase the alliance’s forces in countries on its eastern side. , closest to Russia and its ally Belarus. The decisions, triggered by the Russian invasion, are expected to strengthen the alliance, particularly in its ability to defend the Baltic states, while significantly expanding its borders with Russia.

Russian President Vladimir V. More united, and we will see the democracies of the world rise up, oppose his aggression and defend the rules-based order.” This, he said, was “exactly what we see today.”

But he and the leaders face economic crises, internal division and growing voter fatigue. Fuel prices are rising, fueled by war, high inflation and Western efforts to punish Moscow through its main export, oil and gas. Distracted and polarized by major court rulings, hearings on Capitol riots and upcoming elections, the United States is on the brink of recession. German leaders are warning of a potential desperate energy crisis, and food prices are soaring as Russia blocks important exports from Ukraine.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has been forced to leave the summit to help bolster his political coalition, which is partly deeply unhappy with his strong support for Ukraine and the costs involved.

While support for Ukraine has been mostly found across the alliance, it has been uneven: strongest in countries with long experience and deep fears of Russian domination, such as Poland and the Baltic states, said Anna Veslander, the Swedish director for Northern Europe at the Atlantic Council. It is difficult to preserve in countries such as Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Greece.

“It’s more difficult to sell, with inflation, rising energy prices and war fatigue, are they really going to buy into this geopolitical argument that we have to do it now or are things going to be worse? We’re not there yet, but it’s going to get tougher.

The pledges of some members to strengthen their armies are still far from changing the material conditions of the alliance. Spain spends barely 1% of its GDP on defense, which is half the NATO target; Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has promised to reach just 2% in 2029, and he must first convince reluctant political parties to support the increase.

Ukraine’s leaders continue to demand more weapons, and deliver them faster, to fend off Russia’s slow progress. Addressing NATO leaders, President Volodymyr Zelensky said this week that Ukraine needs about $5 billion a month just to keep his government working.

The announcement of an expanded NATO reaction force, of about 300,000 soldiers or more, instead of currently 40,000, also illustrated the challenge Western leaders face in making sense of their rhetoric. Allies must consult about which forces will be part of the force, spend money to equip and train them and decide on the logistics of the deployments—a process that will likely take at least a year.

“There is a lot to be done by the different nations, and it will take a lot of work” to develop an integrated force that can fight a major land war in Europe, said Malcolm Chalmers, deputy director of the Royal United Services Institute, a military research group in Britain. But he said NATO could no longer focus on its “rapid reaction forces” to go fight in places like Afghanistan, so “this summit was transformative.”

While NATO and its allies struggled with politics, finding money and moving troops, China and India bridged Russia’s financial gap, buying crude oil that fuels the Kremlin’s war machine. And Putin reappeared abroad for the first time in months, new, confident and impatient, to engage in diplomatic courtesies in Central Asia.

“The work is going smoothly and rhythmically,” he told reporters in Turkmenistan late Wednesday, describing the fighting by Russian forces. He insisted he was in no hurry to end the war, saying, “There is no need to talk about timing.”

Despite this assertion, neither Russia nor Ukraine appears to have breached the other side’s lines in a significant way in recent days, despite heavy bombing and fighting in the eastern Donbass region and parts of southern Ukraine. Both sides are severely exhausted, suffering heavy losses and equipment losses.

After repeated Ukrainian attacks—including with powerful newly arrived Western weapons—the last Russian forces retreated by speedboat overnight from Snake Island, a small patch of land in the Black Sea that Russia had captured and used as a base to threaten the Ukrainian coast.

But it was not clear whether Ukraine would be able to reoccupy the island, which could affect control of shipping lanes near Odessa. Russia imposed a blockade on Odessa and other ports, preventing the export of millions of tons of grain and contributing to a global food crisis.

Alternatively, neither side may be able to hold the island in the near future, as Russian warships are held at a distance by Ukrainian missiles but still patrol the Black Sea, along with submarines, in greater numbers than Ukraine can sink .

Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence, said Wednesday, in her first public update on the war in more than a month, that the consensus among U.S. intelligence agencies is that the war likely isn’t over yet.

Ukrainian forces took control of many of their fighting positions in the Donbass, which include the Luhansk and Donetsk provinces. Although Russia secured much of Luhansk Province, US officials believed that it would be difficult for the Russian military to capture the part of Donetsk they did not control.

“The conflict remains a grinding one in which the Russians are making incremental gains, but there is no breakthrough,” Ms Haines said. “In short, the picture is still very bleak.”

Stephen ErlangerAnd the Michael D And the Jim Tankersley reported from Madrid, and Alan Juhas from New York. Contribute to reporting Anton Troyanovsky from Berlin Ivan Nikiburnko From Tbilisi, Georgia, Mark Santora from Warsaw and Julian E. Barnes from Washington.

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