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  • The San Juan Daily Star

Stronger NATO emerges, as Russia grinds forward slowly in Ukraine

President Yoon Suk-yeol of South Korea, left, speaks during a meeting with President Joe Biden of the U.S. and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan, not pictured, at the NATO summit in Madrid on Wednesday, June 29, 2022.

By Steven Erlanger, Michael E. Shear and Shashank Bengali

Demonstrating a renewed determination to stand up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, NATO on Wednesday outlined a muscular new strategic vision that positions Moscow as the alliance’s primary adversary. For the first time, it also labeled China a strategic “challenge.”

NATO’s new strategic document marks a fundamental shift from the post-Cold War era, when the Atlantic alliance saw Russia as a potential ally and did not focus on China. The move comes as Moscow’s forces continue to hold the upper hand in the fifth month of their grinding war in Ukraine, methodically gaining ground in the east as they reduce civilian areas to rubble.

In a flurry of announcements at a summit in Madrid, President Joe Biden and other NATO leaders sought to respond to a resurgent, bellicose Russia. Just before publishing the new mission statement, they extended formal membership invitations to Finland and Sweden, paving the way for NATO’s most significant enlargement in more than a decade.

With Turkey having dropped its objections to the Nordic states’ applications Tuesday, the two formerly nonaligned nations would expand NATO’s ranks from 30 member states to 32. Their accession would be a setback for President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who has described the alliance’s growing security footprint near Russian territory as one reason for his invasion of Ukraine in February.

It would also mark a significant accomplishment for Biden, who has struggled politically back home but has staked his reputation abroad on a promise to unite Europe against Russia’s aggression and to focus the world’s attention on the risks of China’s rise.

Biden said the United States would for the first time station forces permanently on NATO’s eastern flank by deploying an Army garrison headquarters and a field support battalion in Poland, positioning an undisclosed number of U.S. troops for quick action in countries along Russia’s border.

He called the summit one of NATO’s most momentous gatherings and vowed that the group — first assembled in 1949 to secure Europe against the Soviet Union — was committed to “defending every inch” of its members’ territory.

“In a moment when Putin has shattered peace in Europe and attacked the very tenets of the rules-based order, the United States and our allies — we’re going to step up,” Biden said. “We’re stepping up.”

Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, praised the results at the NATO summit in a Twitter message. “We welcome a cleareyed stance on Russia, as well as accession for Finland and Sweden,” he wrote. “An equally strong and active position on Ukraine will help to protect the Euro-Atlantic security and stability.”

While Putin’s invasion has given NATO leaders newfound purpose, it was far from clear that the alliance could help Ukraine turn the tide in a war in which its forces remain badly outnumbered and outgunned. The Russian leader has been far from cowed as his forces use their superior artillery to bombard Ukrainian cities into submission.

In a sign of confidence in the war’s progress and his firm grip on power at home, Putin traveled outside Russia this week for the first time since the war began, visiting Tajikistan on Tuesday and Turkmenistan on Wednesday. But even as he sought to reinforce Russia’s relationships in Central Asia, Putin was also looking to the region as a critical economic partner to help offset the economic sanctions and political isolation imposed by the West.

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