Biden meets Nato allies seeking more support for Ukraine

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The North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s emergency summit is the first in a day-long string of gatherings Mr. Biden has planned with European allies and other world leaders, as they map out their next steps helping Ukraine defend against the attack launched last month by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

With Russian forces facing unexpectedly strong and lethal opposition from Ukrainian forces, Western leaders say they are increasingly worried Mr. Putin may resort to using weapons of mass destruction. NATO officials are grappling with the question of what actions by Russia would count as red lines that could prompt more direct involvement by the alliance.

The potential for chemical warfare in the conflict was “a real threat,” Mr. Biden said Wednesday as he left Washington.

“Any use of chemical weapons would fundamentally change the nature of the conflict,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said as he arrived to kick off the summit. He warned of widespread and serious consequences of such action, but declined to say it was a red line.

NATO has been walking a tightrope of providing Ukraine with weapons and other support, without being directly drawn into the fighting. Mr. Stoltenberg said direct NATO involvement, such as establishing a no-fly zone over Ukraine, could carry high risks for the war to broaden.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the NATO gathering, continuing weeks of outreach with politicians abroad to rally support for his country. Mr. Zelensky repeated his requests for more security assistance for Ukraine, but he did not revive his appeal for NATO membership or for a no-fly zone, according to senior Biden administration officials.

In his remarks at the NATO gathering, Mr. Biden stressed the need to strengthen NATO’s eastern flank and said he welcomed pledges of increased defense spending from various countries, officials said.

Russia’s potential use of chemical weapons was raised in the discussion among NATO leaders, officials said, adding that there was recognition that the alliance needed to continue to prepare for and respond to different contingencies.

Accidental release of chemical agents is also worrying some members. “We are concerned when Russian aggression forces are shelling chemical plants and similar facilities,” Slovenia’s Prime Minister Janez Janša said ahead of the NATO summit. “This could trigger a disaster of large scale.”

Allies also brought up the need to call on China to not support Russia in its war against Ukraine, officials said.

Mr. Stoltenberg on Thursday said NATO would “enhance our preparedness and readiness for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats.”

Allies will continue to provide protection against such threats, he said, as well as assistance in cybersecurity.

Mr. Biden, who arrived in Brussels Wednesday, will also be meeting with leaders of the European Union and the Group of Seven leading industrial countries. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have flown to Brussels for the meetings.

The U.S. and EU have imposed the biggest coordinated package of sanctions ever levied against a major economy in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Senior Biden administration officials said G-7 leaders would discuss the economic spillover effects of the conflict and announce an agreement on coordinating sanctions enforcement. The U.S. also imposed a new round of sanctions on more than 400 political figures, oligarchs and defense companies.

According to U.S. officials, Mr. Biden’s new sanctions will cover more than 300 members of the Russian State Duma, the lower house of parliament, as well as 17 board members of Russian financial institution Sovcombank; Herman Gref, a longtime Putin adviser who leads Sberbank; and elite Russian businessman Gennady Timchenko. The White House said 48 large Russian state-owned defense entities would be part of the new round of sanctions.

The White House said the G-7 and EU would also announce a new initiative aimed at preventing Russia from evading sanctions already in place. U.S. officials said one example will be closing down ways for the Russian central bank to prop up the ruble.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda on Thursday said sanctions should also target Russia’s middle class amid signs popular support for Mr. Putin may be growing.

During his meeting with the European Council, which groups EU national leaders, Mr. Biden pledged more than $1 billion in new funding to address humanitarian needs as a result of the conflict in Ukraine, as well as severe impacts around the world, including a marked rise in food insecurity.

The U.S. will also open its borders to 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing Russia’s attack, administration officials said. More than 3.6 million people have fled the fighting in Ukraine since the conflict began, most bound for Poland.

The U.S. is expected to make an announcement on Friday on enhancing European energy security and reducing the continent’s dependence on Russian natural gas, Mr. Sullivan said.

Ahead of Thursday’s meeting, NATO released estimates indicating Russia may have lost as much as a fifth of its combat forces in about a month of fighting in Ukraine. U.S. military analysts have estimated lower casualty figures.

Up to 40,000 Russian troops have been killed, wounded, taken prisoner or are missing in Ukraine, a senior NATO military official said. Russia may also have lost 10% of its equipment, impairing Moscow’s ability to maintain its pace of operations, another NATO official said. Moscow hasn’t released updated casualty figures since acknowledging on March 2 the deaths of 498 troops in Ukraine.

 

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