U.S. President Joe Biden ended his three-nation trip to Europe with a resounding statement of support for NATO, seeking to allay European fears that a change in U.S. administration would mean uncertainty for Washington’s ties with its transatlantic allies.
“I absolutely guarantee you. There is no question,” he said during a joint press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto Thursday in Helsinki. “We will stay connected to NATO. Connected to NATO beginning middle and end. We're a transatlantic partnership.”
Biden reiterated “overwhelming support” from both parties in the U.S. Congress, “notwithstanding the fact there are some extreme elements of one party.”
He appeared to be referring to the isolationist posture of some Republicans influenced by the “America First” principle espoused by Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, who repeatedly questioned NATO’s purpose and, in 2017, called the alliance obsolete.
“The American people know, since the end of World War II and the formation of NATO that our security rests in the unanimity among European and transatlantic partner – us,” he said.
Biden’s guarantees of transatlantic unity against Russian President Vladimir Putin presents a markedly different tone than the last time an American leader spoke in the Finnish presidential palace.
Exactly five years ago this week, Trump met with Putin and, in a stunning rebuke of his own intelligence agencies’ assessment, sided with Putin over whether the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
Commitment for Finland, Ukraine
Coming out of a two-day NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Biden assured Niinisto that the alliance’s commitment to its 31st and newest member is “rock solid.”
Finland was admitted in April. Sweden, which sought NATO membership at the same time as Finland in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, was approved to join earlier this week after Turkey dropped its opposition following multiple rounds of talks.
Biden said NATO members are united and determined to support Ukraine in fending off Russia’s invasion and in progressing toward membership.
“We're not waiting for [Ukraine’s] NATO membership to be finalized to commit to long-term security of Ukraine,” he said, noting a new framework that will address Kyiv’s needs now and post-war. That framework was unveiled Wednesday by the G7, which includes Japan, the only non-NATO member of the group of seven wealthy democracies.
The framework provides for a series of bilateral agreements to provide security and economic support to protect Ukraine until the war with Russia ends and as Kyiv reforms its systems to alliance standards. Reform and end of conflict are conditions for joining NATO that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accepted.
Putin ‘already lost’
Biden also offered a stark assessment of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s chances in the conflict – declaring the Russian president “has already lost the war.”
“Putin has a real problem. How does he move from here? What does he do?” Biden asked rhetorically, noting that Moscow lacks the resources to win and will eventually decide there is no economic or political rationale to continue the conflict.
“I can't predict exactly how that happens,” Biden said. “My hope is, and my expectation is, you'll see that Ukraine makes significant progress on their offensive, and that it generates a negotiated settlement somewhere along the line.”
In return, Niinisto assured Biden of the Nordic nation’s commitment.
“We will continue support to Ukraine, which is defending not only herself, but also all the values we represent in the Western world,” he said.
Niinisto and Biden met earlier Thursday before a larger gathering with Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store, Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and Iceland's Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir.
It’s the third summit of its format, and a particularly symbolic one as it is the first where all Nordic countries are now members of NATO.
“We may expect Putin to lash out in some way or another,” warned Patrick James, professor of International Relations at the University of Southern California. “Intense rhetoric and, unfortunately, brutal actions would seem likely in response,” he told VOA.
The agenda for the U.S.-Nordic summit includes discussion of climate change, security cooperation and emerging technologies.
Leaders also noted the importance of protecting the Arctic and promoting its sustainable economic development – a much more elusive goal since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
For nearly three decades, the Arctic Council has been a successful example of post-Cold War cooperation among eight Arctic states — Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the U.S., as well as indigenous peoples' organizations.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the council has stopped working with Moscow, and now with all other council members part of NATO, there’s concern the conflict will hamper work on climate change, biodiversity, indigenous people’s interests and other common challenges.
Council chair Norway has not made public whether it will try to get agreement on re-engaging Russia — which accounts for more than half the Arctic coastline — absent an end to Moscow’s war on Ukraine.
Some Arctic issues can be addressed effectively without Russian government involvement or consent, but for many of the most important Arctic issues, progress without Moscow will be woefully limited, said John Holdren co-director of the Harvard Kennedy School's Arctic Initiative and a former science adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama.
“The simple fact is that Russia has more land area, more territorial waters, more population, and more infrastructure [including military infrastructure] in the Arctic than anybody else,” he told VOA.
While China is not an Arctic nation, Beijing characterizes itself as a “near-Arctic” nation and has an active presence there. If China were to take a more active role on Russia’s side in the war in Ukraine, Holdren warned of increasing concerns about China-Russia collaboration in militarizing the Arctic.
Anita Powell contributed to this report.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story rendered Patrick James' first and last name in the incorrect order. VOA regrets the error.