Biden Promises Air Defense Support for Ukraine as NATO Summit Begins

US President Joe Biden has pledged to provide Ukraine with five new strategic air defense systems to counter relentless Russian attacks, in a forceful speech welcoming NATO leaders to Washington, DC. In brief but strongly delivered remarks at the summit’s opening, Biden declared the military alliance “more powerful than ever” as it faced a “pivotal moment” in the Russia-Ukraine war.

Biden announced the US would partner with Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Romania to donate Patriot missile batteries and other systems to aid Ukraine, amid rising civilian casualties. The announcement follows a Russian missile strike that leveled a children’s hospital in Kyiv, killing 43 people and injuring over a hundred. Russia denied responsibility, but the UN and analysts attributed the attack to Moscow. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has long urged Western allies to increase air defense supplies.

NATO plans to donate five strategic air defense systems and dozens of smaller anti-air batteries over the coming year. “The war will end with Ukraine remaining a free and independent country,” Biden said. “Russia will not prevail. Ukraine will prevail.”

Biden’s 13-minute speech, delivered clearly, marked a contrast to his fumbling tone during last month’s debate with Trump. The speech aimed to reassure both international allies and domestic audiences of his leadership amidst an election challenge from Trump. Biden warned that “autocrats” were threatening global order.

Meanwhile, congressional Democrats privately debated Biden’s leadership, with one lawmaker describing the mood as “sad.” Later, a seventh House Democrat, Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, publicly urged Biden not to seek re-election, citing high stakes. Visiting diplomats also expressed doubts about Biden’s future. “I can’t imagine him being at the helm of the US and NATO for four more years,” one European envoy told Reuters.

Biden’s team has emphasized his vitality and credited his leadership for NATO’s expansion since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with Finland and Sweden joining the alliance. Leaders from the 32 member countries are in Washington for the summit, including the UK’s new Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer. Before departing, Starmer confirmed Labour’s “unshakeable support for NATO.”

When asked about his message to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Starmer said the summit showed “a clear and united resolve by NATO allies to stand with Ukraine and stand up to Russian aggression.” He noted the recent attack on a Kyiv children’s hospital “strengthens the resolve” for the summit.

Starmer added that the UK seeks to advance a support package for Ukraine that “goes beyond previous support.” He is scheduled to meet Biden, and Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress on Wednesday.

Tuesday’s event celebrated NATO’s history, held in the venue where the original treaty was signed. Near the end of his speech, Biden called NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on stage to award him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor.

Later, Trump criticised NATO allies during a campaign rally in Florida. Trump, attended by his sons, including Barron, who received more applause than his brothers, lambasted NATO countries for failing to meet defense spending goals. He claimed that during his presidency, he pressured these countries to contribute “hundreds of billions of dollars” more by threatening to withhold protection from Russia.

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