Biden reassures eastern NATO allies on security after Putin’s nuclear warning
By Nandita Bose and Alan Charlish
WARSAW (Reuters) – US President Joe Biden vowed on Wednesday that “we will defend every inch of NATO” to reassure allies on Europe’s eastern flank, describing Russia’s suspension of a landmark nuclear arms control treaty as a “big mistake”.
Biden was speaking at talks with Eastern European NATO allies in the Polish capital of Warsaw two days after a surprise visit to Kiev, ahead of the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.
Speaking to thousands in downtown Warsaw on Tuesday, amid the highest tensions between Russia and the West since the Cold War more than three decades ago, Biden said “autocrats” like Russian President Vladimir Putin must oppose it.
Hours earlier, Putin had made lengthy remarks critical of the Western powers, blaming them for the war in Ukraine. Biden said the West never planned to attack Russia and that the invasion was Putin’s choice.
Putin also backed away from the New START arms control treaty – a 2010 agreement that limits the number of strategic nuclear warheads deployed by Russia and the US – and warned that Moscow could resume nuclear testing.
“It’s a big mistake,” Biden said of Putin’s decision ahead of his meeting with the Eastern European allies known as the Bucharest Nine.
“The United States’ commitment to NATO … is absolutely clear. Article 5 is a sacred commitment made by the United States. We will defend literally every inch of NATO, every inch of NATO,” he said.
Article 5 stipulates that an attack on one NATO member is treated as an attack on all and requires a concerted response.
Earlier in the day, Biden met with staff at the US embassy in Warsaw before assembling leaders of the Bucharest Nine – states like Poland, Bulgaria and Lithuania that joined the western military bloc after being dominated by Moscow during the Cold War under communist rule .
Most are among the strongest supporters of military aid to Ukraine, and officials from the countries in the group have called for additional resources such as air defense systems.
At the meeting, Biden reiterated Washington’s commitment to their security.
“As NATO’s eastern flank, you are at the forefront of our collective defense. You know better than anyone what is at stake in this conflict. Not just for Ukraine, but for the freedom of democracies across Europe and around the world.”
The Kremlin sees NATO, which could soon expand to include Sweden and Finland, as an existential threat to Russia.
In a joint statement after the meeting, the Bucharest Nine said they were determined to increase NATO’s military presence on their territories to deter Moscow. “Russia is the most significant and direct threat to the security of the Allies,” it said.
The declaration was also signed by Hungary, which has rolled back some EU sanctions against Russia and is, along with Turkey, the only NATO member still to have ratified Sweden and Finland’s bids for membership.
Ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto called for a ceasefire and peace talks over Ukraine to prevent further escalation into a larger conflict — a line that conflicts with calls from many of his neighbors for a clear victory for Ukraine.
“Having seen and heard the speeches of the Presidents of the United States and Russia yesterday, I think they would have done humanity a much greater service if they had spoken to each other,” Szijjarto said at a press conference in Budapest.
On Wednesday, the Bucharest Nine – including Hungary – reiterated their support for Ukraine.
“Ukraine is exercising its legitimate right to defend itself against Russian aggression in order to regain full control over its territory,” the statement said. “We will support Ukraine’s efforts to this end for as long as necessary.”
A White House statement accompanying the talks said the United States and the Bucharest Nine “reaffirmed their unwavering support for Ukraine and underlined their shared commitment to stand by the Ukrainian people for as long as is needed.”
Leaders looked forward to further strengthening unity and collective defense at a NATO summit in Vilnius in July.
(Reporting by Nandita Bose, Alan Charlish, Pawel Florkiewicz, Anna Koper and Andrius Sytas in Warsaw, Robert Muller and Jason Hovet in Prague, Gergely Szakacs in Budapest; Writing by Niklas Pollard, Gwladys Fouche, Trevor Hunnicutt and Steve Holland; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Mark Heinrich and Alistair Bell)