Joe Biden pledges air defences for Ukraine as Nato summit begins


US President Joe Biden has committed to providing Ukraine with five new strategic air defense systems to counter ongoing Russian assaults.

In a powerful speech welcoming NATO leaders to Washington, DC, Biden proclaimed the military alliance “more powerful than ever” as it confronts a “pivotal moment” in the Russia-Ukraine war.

During the summit’s opening, President Biden announced that the US, in partnership with Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Romania, will donate Patriot missile batteries and other systems to support Ukraine, amid increasing civilian casualties.

This announcement comes two days after a Russian missile strike destroyed a children’s hospital in Kyiv, an attack described by the city’s mayor as one of the worst since the war began.

Monday’s attacks killed 43 people and injured over a hundred, with Russia denying responsibility. However, the UN and analysts from BBC Verify attributed the attack to Moscow.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been urging Western allies for months to enhance air defense supplies.

NATO plans to donate five strategic air defense systems and numerous smaller, tactical anti-air batteries over the coming year.

“The war will end with Ukraine remaining a free and independent country,” Mr Biden said on Tuesday afternoon. “Russia will not prevail. Ukraine will prevail.”

President Biden delivered a clear 13-minute speech, contrasting sharply with his hesitant tone during last month’s presidential debate with Trump.

The speech seemed aimed at reassuring both overseas allies and those closer to home that he can effectively contest an election against Donald Trump. The president warned that “autocrats” were disrupting global order.

Meanwhile, congressional Democrats held a private meeting to discuss Biden’s leadership, with lawmakers describing the mood as “sad,” according to the Associated Press.

Later on Tuesday, a seventh House Democrat, Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, publicly urged Biden not to run for re-election, citing high stakes.

Visiting diplomats also reportedly expressed doubts about Biden’s future.

“We don’t see how he can come back after the debate,” one unnamed European envoy told Reuters news agency. “I can’t imagine him being at helm of the US and Nato for four more years.”

President Biden’s team has responded by emphasizing that the 81-year-old president remains vigorous enough to handle the demands of the presidency.

The White House has credited Biden’s leadership for the expansion of NATO since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine two years ago, with Finland and Sweden joining the alliance.

Leaders from the 32 member countries are gathering in Washington, DC, for the summit. Among them is the UK’s new Prime Minister, Sir Keir Starmer. Before departing for Washington, he expressed his strong support for NATO, reaffirming Labour’s unwavering commitment to the alliance.

When asked by reporters about his message to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Sir Keir said the summit “should be seen as a clear and united resolve by NATO allies to stand with Ukraine and stand up to Russian aggression.” He added that a recent deadly attack on a children’s hospital in Kyiv “strengthens the resolve, and that is a very important if tragic backdrop to this summit.”

Sir Keir noted that the support package for Ukraine being advanced by the UK at the summit “goes beyond the support that’s been put in before.” He is scheduled to meet with President Biden on Wednesday, as well as Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress.

Tuesday’s event was rich in historical significance, taking place in the venue where the original NATO treaty was signed. Biden referenced this history in his speech and called NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to the stage to award him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor.

Meanwhile, former President Trump, 78, criticized NATO allies during a campaign rally at his golf club in Doral, Florida. The event was attended by all three of his sons, including his youngest, Barron, who, according to Trump, was at his first-ever rally and received more applause from the audience than his brothers, Eric and Don.

Trump has repeatedly criticized NATO member states for failing to meet the agreed goal of spending at least 2% of gross domestic product on defense. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, more NATO countries have met that benchmark.

Trump told supporters that these countries were contributing “hundreds of billions of dollars” more because when he was president he had warned them “No, I will not protect you from Russia” unless they paid more to the alliance.

When Trump made similar remarks at a rally in February this year, Mr Stoltenberg said such talk “undermines all of our security”.

But the Nato chief remained tight-lipped on the Republican candidate as the summit began on Tuesday.

Ukrainian President Vlodymyr Zelensky said at an event held elsewhere in Washington DC that the whole world was “waiting for November”, when the US general election takes place, and he urged American voters to stand by Ukraine.

Mr Zelensky is due to meet Mr Biden on Thursday.