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NATO begins sending F-16 jets in new support for Ukraine

By AFP - Jul 11,2024 - Last updated at Jul 11,2024

US President Joe Biden speaks during the NATO 75th anniversary summit at the Walter E. Washington Convention Centre in Washington, DC, on Wednesday (AFP photo)

WASHINGTON — NATO allies announced on Wednesday they had started the long-promised transfer of F-16 jets to Ukraine as leaders meet for a summit in Washington clouded by political uncertainties in the United States.

With the pomp of the three-day gathering in the US capital, President Joe Biden is aiming to rally the West and also reassure US voters amid pre-election scrutiny on whether at 81 — six years older than the alliance — he remains fit for the job.

Biden individually welcomed the other 31 leaders of the alliance before urging them to keep pace with Russia's military production which has stepped up sharply in the two years since President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine.

"We can — and will — defend every inch of NATO territory and we'll do it together," Biden told the North Atlantic Council, the formal decision-making body of the alliance, convened in an air-conditioned convention centre as Washington sweltered in a heat wave.

Biden announced that Denmark and The Netherlands had begun sending US-made F-16 jets to Ukraine — making good on a key promise last year to Kyiv, which has struggled to gain parity in the air with Russia.

Biden earlier announced new air defense systems for Ukraine and said the United States had agreed to place long-range missiles periodically in Germany.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the F-16 transfer “concentrates Vladimir Putin’s mind on the fact that he will not outlast Ukraine, he will not outlast us and, if he persists, the damage that will continue to be done to Russia and its interests will only deepen”.

“The quickest way to get to peace is through a strong Ukraine,” Blinken said.

But Donald Trump, who is edging out Biden in recent polls, has mused about bringing a quick peace settlement by forcing Ukraine to surrender territory to Russia.

The Republican mogul has repeatedly questioned the utility of NATO — formed in 1949 as collective defense against Moscow — which he sees as an unfair burden on the United States.


‘Terror must fail’ 


On the eve of the summit, Russia fired a barrage of missiles on Ukraine, killing dozens, including in Kyiv where a children’s hospital was reduced to debris.

Biden invited to the summit Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who voiced gratitude for the F-16s.

The new aircraft will “bring just and lasting peace closer, demonstrating that terror must fail”, Zelensky wrote on social media.

The summit will look for ways to “Trump-proof” the alliance including by having NATO itself take over coordination of arms delivery from the United States.

Outgoing NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has also secured a pledge to keep supplying arms at the same rate — some 40 billion euros ($43 billion) annually — that NATO members have been since Russia invaded. 

“I expect that regardless of the outcome of the US elections, the US will remain a strong and staunch NATO ally,” Stoltenberg said as leaders gathered for the summit.

Biden has also invited four key Pacific partners — Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand — as he seeks to increase NATO’s role in managing a rising China.


 ‘Irreversible’ Ukraine path to NATO 

Ukraine wants firm assurances that it will one day join NATO, which considers an attack on any member an attack on all.

Several diplomats said negotiations had settled on wording of a statement that will voice support for Ukraine’s “irreversible path to full Euro-Atlantic integration, including NATO membership”.

Kyiv’s membership enjoys wide backing from Baltic and Eastern European nations still haunted by decades under the Soviet yoke.

But Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have led opposition, concerned that the alliance would effectively be entering war with nuclear-armed Russia as it occupies swathes of Ukraine.

President Alexander Stubb of Finland — which, like Sweden, joined NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — hailed the language as a message to Putin that he is failing in his goal of pushing back the alliance.

UK Prime Minister Keir Starmer, visiting days after his Labour Party swept to power, promised Zelensky that Britain — unlike the United States — was united across partisan lines on supporting Ukraine.

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