U.S. President Joe Biden addressed leaders of the NATO military alliance in Poland on Feb. 22, pledging continued support for their security after Russia suspended a major nuclear arms control treaty.
Biden addressed leaders from NATO’s eastern flank, colloquially called the “Bucharest Nine,” which joined NATO after decades of the Soviet Union’s communist domination.
The group counts among its members some of the staunchest NATO supporters and advocates for military aid to Ukraine, which has been defending itself from various Russian conquests since 2014.
“As NATO’s eastern flank, you are the frontline of our collective defense,” Biden said during the speech in Warsaw.
“You know better than anyone what is at stake in this conflict. Not just for Ukraine, but for the freedom of democracies throughout Europe and around the world.”
Biden delivered the remarks reaffirming the U.S. commitment to NATO’s security just days after several threats from Russia toward both Ukraine and the democracies of the West.
On Feb. 21, Russian leader Vladimir Putin delivered a nationally televised speech in which he lambasted the West for what he called “colonialism,” repeated false claims about biological weapons in Ukraine, and blamed Western democracies for creating Nazism.
Putin also claimed that the United States and the West had plotted terrorist attacks and military strikes on Russian bases, which Biden dismissed as patently false.
The decision to conquer Ukraine was Putin’s choice alone, according to Biden.
The president said that any attempt by Russia to harm a member of NATO would trigger the alliance’s Article 5, which guarantees the collective defense of NATO members by all other members.
“Article 5 is a sacred commitment the United States has made,” Biden said. “We will defend literally every inch of NATO, every inch of NATO.”
The dueling narratives between the democratic West and authoritarian Russia come just two days before the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and after Putin announced that Russia would suspend its participation in the landmark New START agreement, which limits how many nuclear warheads the United States and Russia can produce or deploy.
Russia boasts the world’s largest nuclear arsenal and, in recent months, Putin has deployed tactical nuclear weapons-armed vessels to the Baltic Sea in an escalation not seen since the Cold War.
Despite suspending its participation in the treaty, the Kremlin claims that it will still stick to the agreed-upon limits of nuclear warheads.
“It is a big mistake,” Biden said of Putin’s decision to suspend the treaty, noting that “autocrats” such as Putin must be opposed at all costs.
He said he plans to discuss additional support for Ukraine before he returns to Washington. Meanwhile, the Kremlin claims that NATO, which might soon expand to include Sweden and Finland, is an existential threat to Russia.
For his part, Biden described Russia’s attempted conquest and Ukraine’s resistance as a test of the democratic societies of the world. From that test, the West would emerge stronger, he said.
“When Russia invaded, it wasn’t just Ukraine being tested, the whole world faced a test for the ages,” he said. “Europe was being tested. America was being tested. NATO was being tested. All democracies are being tested.
“The questions we faced were as simple as they were profound. Would we respond or would we look the other way? Would we be strong or would we be weak? Would all of our allies be united or divided?
“One year later, we know the answer: We did respond. We would be strong. We would be united. And the world would not look the other way.”
Reuters contributed to this report.
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