Biden says no ‘unanimity’ on Nato offer to Kyiv; US decision to provide cluster bombs still making waves

Biden says no ‘unanimity’ on Nato offer to Kyiv; US decision to provide cluster bombs still making waves
US President Joe Biden in Washington, DC, United States, on 7 July 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Shawn Thew)

US President Joe Biden said there’s no ‘unanimity’ about bringing Ukraine into Nato as the military alliance prepares to meet in Vilnius. The US president left Washington on Sunday and will meet UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in London on Monday before travelling to Lithuania for the Nato summit, which starts on Tuesday.

‘I don’t think there is unanimity in Nato about whether or not to bring Ukraine into the Nato family now, at this moment, in the middle of a war,” US President Joe Biden said in an interview with CNN conducted on Friday and broadcast on Sunday. “If the war is going on, then we’re all in war. We’re at war with Russia, if that were the case.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met his Polish counterpart on Sunday, the latest in a round of diplomacy with Nato members ahead of the summit in Lithuania on Tuesday. Zelensky also discussed a possible path to negotiations in an ABC News interview.

The foreign ministers of Turkey and Russia spoke by phone on Sunday. Hakan Fidan and Sergey Lavrov discussed recent developments in Ukraine, including the recent return of Azov regiment commanders from Turkey to Ukraine. The pair also talked about the soon-to-expire Black Sea shipping agreement. Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement that the continued supply of military equipment to Kyiv “could only lead to negative consequences” for Ankara.

The US decision on Friday to provide controversial cluster bombs to Ukraine continues to cause waves, with Nato members Italy, the UK and Spain – all strong allies of Kyiv – questioning the move. Ukraine has said it will maintain strict controls over the use of the weapons. Sunak and Biden are expected to discuss the US decision in their meeting.

Latest developments



Solidarity or squabbling: Five things to watch at Nato’s summit

Leaders of the 31 countries that comprise Nato will gather in Vilnius, Lithuania, for a two-day summit starting on Tuesday, as Russia’s war in Ukraine nears its 18-month mark.

The meeting comes at a crucial moment in the conflict. Nato is seeking to bolster Kyiv with fresh munitions – including US-provided cluster bombs – for its counteroffensive, and gauge the impact of June’s aborted mutiny by Wagner Group head Yevgeny Prigozhin on Russia’s leadership and operations.

But the alliance is also grappling with internal squabbling over Turkey’s reluctance to approve Sweden’s membership and whether to pave a path for Ukraine’s eventual accession.

Nevertheless, the assembled leaders – including US President Joe Biden, still the alliance’s most powerful figure – are eager to use this week’s meeting to signal that the conflict in Ukraine has only strengthened Nato.

Here’s what to watch for as world leaders descend on Vilnius:

Swedish Membership: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is scheduled to meet Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson on Monday ahead of the summit, as the Nordic nation makes a last-ditch effort to convince Ankara that it should be allowed to join Nato.

Turkey has said its opposition stems from concerns Sweden isn’t doing enough to clamp down on Kurdish separatist groups that Ankara views as terrorist organisations.

Read more: Erdogan says Turkey can’t trust Sweden as ‘terrorists’ roam free

Erdoğan has also signalled his eagerness for a meeting with Biden – US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said he expects the pair to talk at the summit – and to purchase American F-16 fighter jets for his military.

Ukraine aid: Ukraine will be a key topic, with Zelensky planning to participate in the summit.

The 31 Nato countries are expected to offer Kyiv a promise of long-term support, which aims to deepen ties without immediately making it a member, given that the bloc’s Article 5 security guarantees could draw allies into Russia’s war against Ukraine. The US announced an $800-million package on Friday that includes controversial cluster munitions, which some Nato allies have outlawed over humanitarian concerns related to unexploded ordnance.

Read more: US sends cluster bombs to Ukraine despite civilian threat

Biden, in a 7 July interview with CNN, said that Ukraine isn’t “ready for membership in Nato,” for reasons including Russia’s ongoing assault on the country and Nato’s Article 5 provisions.

Zelensky has called for the summit to send clear signals in support of his country’s membership, urging allies to provide a more concrete perspective beyond a 15-year-old statement that Ukraine will eventually join.

The allies are grappling with how to address the question in the summit statement, with some eastern Nato members pushing for a more concrete path. Countries like the US and Germany have wanted to focus instead on immediate assistance. One option could entail declaring Ukraine doesn’t need a Membership Action Plan – a way to fast-track the country

Nato leaders are also expected to agree to a €500-million a year fund in non-lethal aid to help Ukraine modernise its military. On the sidelines of the summit, some allies are expected to pledge bilateral security assurances to Ukraine, committing to ensure its armed forces are well-equipped and well-trained in an effort to deter Russia from re-invading after the war ends.

Defence spending: Nato leaders are due to sign off on a new defence spending pledge, making an enduring commitment to spend “at least” 2% of gross domestic product on defence. The agreement extends the alliance’s previous aspirational goal of targeting 2% and underscores vows to spend more following the Ukraine invasion.

But many nations – including Luxembourg, Canada and Italy – are still struggling to comply with the old guideline. Only 11 of the 31 allies are expected to meet the 2% goal this year, according to estimates published by Nato on Friday.

The alliance is also expected to sign off on three regional defence plans for the first time since the end of the Cold War, which spell out in detail how countries will defend territory if it comes under attack by Russia or terror groups.

Leaders are also set to endorse a defence industry action plan, aimed at boosting defence production as Ukraine burns through artillery ammunition more quickly than allies can produce it.

Secretary-general: One of the biggest questions facing the assembled leaders in Vilnius is who will lead their group into the future, especially as the conflict in Ukraine threatens to drag on.

Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg agreed last week to serve another year – his fourth extension in the top job – despite previously stating publicly that he didn’t seek to prolong his post.

But neither top candidate to replace him – Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen or British defence chief Ben Wallace – appears able to corral enough of a consensus to secure the job, and the US ultimately refrained from publicly endorsing a candidate. Biden’s top priority was maintaining unity within the alliance, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Special relationship: Biden’s visit to the UK, his second in three months, is largely seen as a make-up trip after he declined to attend Charles III’s coronation in May.

Although Biden plans to visit 10 Downing Street to meet Prime Minister Rishi Sunak before travelling to Windsor Castle, he’s expected to be on the ground for less than a day. During his royal audience, Biden and the new British monarch are expected to unveil a dual effort toward a mutual passion – recruiting private companies to help fund projects that can reduce climate change.

The British will be looking for Biden to firm up his commitment to a series of minor trade, military and technology agreements Sunak touted as the “Atlantic Declaration” while visiting the White House last month.

Polish, Ukrainian leaders look to heal leftover wounds from WW2

The presidents of Ukraine and Poland gathered for a church service on Sunday to commemorate an event from 80 years ago that’s among those central to the Polish consciousness – the Volhynia massacre.

In the final years of World War 2, Ukrainian nationalist units targeted Polish national minorities, killing as many as 100,000 – including many women and children – in a region that was then within the borders of Nazi-occupied Poland but is now in western Ukraine.

Poland’s Parliament passed a resolution in 2016 to declare the actions a genocide. Warsaw has clashed with Kyiv at times over a ban on proposed Polish exhumation works in the region.

Poland has been one of Ukraine’s closest allies since Russia’s invasion in February 2022, providing significant military aid and welcoming millions of refugees. Yet the issue of Volhynia remains contentious, and in an election year, some Polish politicians have called on Kyiv to make an official apology.

Zelensky’s appearance on Sunday may have been a step in that direction. Along with Poland’s Andrzej Duda, he attended a memorial service in Lutsk, about 100km east of the current Polish-Ukrainian border.



Ukraine’s arms chief ramps up production in face of missile hits

Just months after he was tapped to oversee Ukraine’s arms industry, Oleksandr Kamyshin says it produced more mortar and artillery shells in June than it made in all of last year.

How many more is a secret, he says. While that result is a success in a country where many of his factories are routinely under attack by Russian missiles, Kamyshin says he still has a long way to go.

“I wouldn’t say that we were that great for managing to increase ammunition production in three months,” he said in an interview at his Kyiv office. “We produced so little in 2022.”

A self-described turnaround specialist, Kamyshin now faces a business overhaul with little precedent. The 39-year-old aims to remake Ukraine’s sprawling defence industry – known for decades for corruption and inefficiency – into an engine of the war effort that’s deciding the fate of his country. All while fighting rages around his plants.

Supplies of weapons to Ukraine from the US and its allies have been the main focus so far in the war. But Kyiv is racing to build up its own production so it won’t have to depend on charity forever. Later, Kamyshin aims to make Ukraine a major arms exporter again.

“We have to be ambitious, because we have no choice,” said Kamyshin, sporting a traditional Cossack braid. “My aim is to make Ukraine the arsenal of the free world.”

Ukraine is no newcomer to the arms trade, becoming – albeit briefly in 2012 – the world’s fourth largest arms exporter. As part of the Soviet Union, its arms factories made up a significant portion of the bloc’s vast weapons complex, leaving huge legacy stocks to sell when the bloc collapsed. The Malyshev tank factory alone employed 60,000 workers at its Cold War peak.

Kremlin says Turkey’s return of Azov defenders violates accord

Turkey violated existing agreements after it returned five commanders of the Azov regiment to Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told RIA Novosti.

Earlier on Saturday, Zelensky said in a tweet that five “heroes” were returning home to “finally be with their relatives”.

Five Ukrainian commanders who held the defence of the Azovstal steel plant in the port city of Mariupol for months against Russian assault were among prisoners of war swapped between Russia and Ukraine in September, with Turkey and Saudi Arabia involved in exchange talks. The commanders were freed on condition that they spend the rest of the war in Turkey under the personal protection of Erdoğan, Zelensky said at the time.

“The return of the leaders of the ‘Azov’ from Turkey to Ukraine is nothing more than a direct violation of the terms of the existing agreements,” Peskov told RIA Novosti. “Moreover, in this case, both the Ukrainian side and the Turkish side violated the conditions.”

Peskov said that there was a lot of pressure on Ankara as it prepared for the Nato summit next week. “Turkey, of course, as a Nato member, shows its solidarity with the alliance. We understand all this perfectly well,” Peskov said. DM


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