President Biden and NATO leaders meeting in Brussels announced a series of steps Thursday to respond to Russia’s assault on Ukraine, even as they were scolded by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for not doing enough to help his war-ravaged nation.
NATO’s emergency summit was the first in a full day of meetings Mr. Biden held with European and world leaders as they plot their next steps in helping Ukraine defend against the Russian invading forces. The Kremlin’s offensive is now a month old, and U.S. officials fear Russian President Vladimir Putin is growing increasingly desperate to show progress in what many thought would be a relatively easy campaign.
While the NATO leaders posed for group photos, shook hands and enjoyed warm chuckles as they moved in and out of meetings, Mr. Zelenskyy pleaded with them to do more to help stop the bombings and civilian deaths in Kyiv and other major Ukrainian cities. He expressed gratitude for NATO‘s support to date, but immediately added it fell far short of what Ukraine‘s outmanned and outgunned forces need.
“NATO has yet to show what the alliance can do to save people. To show that this is truly the most powerful defense union in the world. And the world is waiting. And Ukraine is very much waiting. Waiting for real actions. Real security guarantees,” Mr. Zelenskyy said in a virtual address from the Ukrainian capital to the 30-member military alliance.
He complained that Western allies were refusing to give his government clear answers on its requests for more firepower.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg insisted NATO was determined to do all it can to support Ukraine, but that did not include much of what Mr. Zelenskyy had requested. Mr. Stoltenberg and Mr. Biden have consistently ruled out a NATO-enforced no-fly zone over Ukraine’s skies or the deployment of NATO troops in Ukraine, fearing it could lead Mr. Putin to expand the war across eastern Europe.
In an often scathing speech, Mr. Zelenskyy pressed the allies to do more, saying Kyiv was asking for only 1% of the alliance’s 20,000 tanks and that the alliance was slow-walking his requests for help. He also asked for anti-ship and air defense systems.
“You can give us 1% of all your aircraft, 1% of all your tanks. One percent! We can’t just buy it. Such a supply depends on NATO’s decisions, on political decisions, by the way,” Mr. Zelenskyy said, according to the English translation of his remarks.
While Mr. Stoltenberg pledged his support, he warned that more aid would risk a “full-fledged war” in Europe that would be “more dangerous and more devastating” than the one in Ukraine.
Instead, NATO members announced measures they described as “preventive, proportionate and non-escalatory.”
Russia has met unexpectedly powerful resistance from Ukraine. British intelligence officials said Thursday Russian forces have suffered thousands of casualties in Ukraine and would likely seek to deploy new forces to compensate for the loss of manpower.
Ukraine’s dogged resistance and Mr. Zelenskyy’s widely praised leadership have forced NATO to walk a tightrope, seeking to show support for Kyiv but fearing more direct aid would result in Mr. Putin using weapons of mass destruction. Ukraine’s case was bolstered Thursday by dramatic new video apparently showing the Russian landing ship Orsk engulfed in fire at the dock in Berdyansk on the Azov Sea after being hit by Ukrainian ballistic missiles, with two other Russian vessels hastily putting to sea as the ship burns.
U.N. officials Thursday offered more data on the massive refugee crisis Russia’s invasion has spawned, estimating that 4.3 million Ukrainian children — more than half — have been forced to flee their homes because of the fighting, relocating to safer locations inside Ukraine or to bordering nations across eastern Europe. Mr. Biden was due to travel Saturday to Poland, which has received more Ukrainian refugees than any other country.
The U.N. General Assembly, meeting in New York, also overwhelmingly approved a resolution on a 140-5 vote saying Russia was to blame for the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and urging an immediate cease-fire. Only Belarus, Syria, North Korea and Eritrea joined Russia in opposing the measure, although a number of major countries, including China, India and South Africa, abstained.
NATO ministers at the summit did agree to deploy more combat-ready forces to the alliance’s eastern flank, doubling the number of battle groups to eight.
Mr. Biden on Thursday vowed the U.S. would respond if Mr. Putin’s army deployed chemical weapons in Ukraine, but said the response would depend on the type of the attack.
“We would respond if he uses it, and the nature of the response would depend on the nature of the use,” he said.
When asked if the use of chemical weapons in Ukraine would trigger a military response from NATO, Mr. Biden refused to lay out what that response would look like. He declined to say if the U.S. would respond by sending troops to Ukraine, which Mr. Biden has said will not happen.
“It would trigger a response in kind,” Mr. Biden said. “… We’d make that decision at the time.”
NATO announced Thursday it would step up its defenses against chemical and nuclear weapons. It also said it would send equipment to NATO to protect against a chemical weapons attack. The package will include detection equipment, protection, medical equipment and training for decontamination and crisis management.
With fears of a chemical or nuclear attack dominating the conversations, NATO members spent the day underscoring their unity against Russia. The alliance even issued a statement emphasizing that they were all on the same page.
Mr. Biden said Mr. Putin had been banking on NATO being split if he attacked Ukraine, but said the summit was a clear refutation of the Russian leader’s strategy.
“NATO has never been more united than it is today. Putin is getting exactly the opposite of what he intended to have, as a consequence of going into Ukraine,” Mr. Biden told reporters in Brussels after the summit.
But fears of a chemical or nuclear attack left NATO allies taking steps far short of what Mr. Zelenskyy is seeking.
Mr. Biden announced a new round of sanctions on more than 400 Russian political figures, oligarchs and defense companies, including most of the Russian parliament, known as the Duma. It was a move that Mr. Zelenskyy had asked for earlier this month.
The U.S., European Union and Group of Seven nations also announced a new initiative aimed at preventing Russia from evading sanctions. U.S. officials said one example would be to stop the Russian central bank from propping up the ruble.
A White House fact sheet hailed the sanctions as a way to stop Russian efforts to fund its attacks on Ukraine, but Mr. Biden acknowledged later to reporters that sanctions “never deter military aggression,” an unexpected admission that contradicted one of his own administration’s key talking points during the run-up to Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
“Sanctions never deter,” he said. “The maintenance of sanctions, the increasing the pain and the demonstration of why I asked for this NATO meeting is to be sure that after a month, we will sustain what we’re doing, not just next month, the following month, but for the remainder of the entire year. That’s what will stop him.”
Over the past month, White House officials assured Americans that sanctions would stop Mr. Putin from invading Ukraine. Just last month national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters that “sanctions are intended to deter.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry, for its part, said the U.S.-led sanctions campaign threatened to do long-term damage to relations between Washington and Moscow.
“The economic war declared on Russia threatens to completely collapse bilateral relations,” ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters in Moscow Thursday. “… Perhaps, there is still a chance to reach an agreement. But if the [U.S.] goes this way, they will miss this chance once again.”
Mr. Biden also argued Thursday that Russia should be booted out of the Group of 20 major economies, while conceding that the decision was up to the group. If Russia isn’t removed from the group, he said, Ukraine should be allowed to attend the meeting as well.
The next G-20 summit is scheduled for Indonesia in the fall. Russian officials this week confirmed that Mr. Putin plans to attend the Jakarta gathering in person.
Mr. Biden also pledged more than $1 billion in new humanitarian aid to address the crisis in Ukraine and around the world as the war contributes to a rise in food shortages.
The U.S. also will open its borders to 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing Russia’s invasion. More than 3.6 million people fled the devastation in Ukraine since the war began with most headed for Poland.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.