Biden opens NATO summit by announcing new air defenses for Ukraine

President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced plans to supply new air defenses to Ukraine in a speech opening the NATO summit – providing much-needed support for the country at a critical juncture in its defense against Russia’s invasion.

The US, Germany, and Romania will each provide a Patriot battery of their own, while the Netherlands will work with other countries to enable an additional Patriot battery, each country announced in a joint statement. Meanwhile, Italy would also provide a SAMP-T long-range air defense system.

The statement said the air-defense systems “will help to protect Ukrainian cities, civilians, and soldiers, and we are coordinating with the Ukrainian government so that these systems can be utilized rapidly.”

During his speech on Tuesday, Biden vowed that “the United States will make sure that when we export critical air defense interceptors, Ukraine goes to the front of the line.”

“They will get this assistance before anyone else gets it,” Biden added.

Watch Biden’s full remarks here:

Israel also receives defensive interceptors from the United States, though the country relies far more on its Iron Dome to intercept drones and rockets. The US had previously discussed sending Patriot interceptors in Israel to Ukraine.

In addition to the long-range aerial defense systems, the US and other countries are also providing Ukraine with “dozens” of short- and medium-range systems to help Kyiv intercept Russian drones and missiles. The systems including NASAMS, HAWKs, IRIS T-SLM, IRIS T-SLS, and Gepard systems. Canada, Norway, Spain, the UK and other countries will “play an integral role” in providing the systems to Ukraine, while “many other supporters” will provide the interceptor missiles, the statement said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he would fight for “decisive actions” from the United States and Europe to help Ukraine.

“It is not only our country that needs it – everyone needs it, literally every partner, all nations,” Zelensky said in his first remarks after arriving in the US. The Ukrainian president said he would ask for more air defense systems, F-16 fighter jets, and additional security guarantees, “including weapons and finances, political support.”

One day before Biden’s announcement, Russian strikes across Ukraine killed at least 22 people and injured 68 more, according to Ukrainian officials, including a strike on the country’s largest children’s hospital.

On Monday evening, Biden called the strikes a “horrific reminder of Russia’s brutality.”

Two-and-a-half years into the war with Russia, Zelensky has repeatedly asked allied nations to strengthen his country’s air defenses to thwart Moscow’s military prowess overhead.

The United States has been a crucial ally to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in 2022 – but the future of that alliance has been thrown into question.

Former President Donald Trump has said he would pressure Ukraine into a peace deal with Russia that would see Kyiv cede territory in the process if he wins the presidency. Earlier this year, Trump said he would allow Russia to do “whatever the hell they want” with countries that don’t meet NATO defense-funding obligations.

Support for Ukraine was also a prime topic at this year’s G7 summit in Italy, where Biden and Zelensky signed an agreement that commits the US for 10 years to continued training of Ukraine’s armed forces, more cooperation in the production of weapons and military equipment, the continued provision of military assistance and greater intelligence sharing.

But that agreement could be undone under a different administration.

Biden spoke Tuesday from the Mellon Auditorium, where the North Atlantic Treaty was signed in 1949 – creating the alliance – and where former President Bill Clinton held the alliance’s 50th anniversary summit.

Given the backdrop, Biden leaned into the history of the alliance and the trajectory of the threats it has faced – and argued that, under his leadership, NATO has become stronger than ever.

“All we allies knew before this war Putin thought NATO would break,” Biden said. “Today, NATO is stronger than its ever been in its history.”

He concluded his speech by presenting NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Biden’s remarks were scripted and read from a teleprompter, but the stakes were high for the president as many members of his own party and the public writ large are watching him closely following his poor debate performance late last month. Some members of his own party have recently said they want more evidence of his mental and physical fitness before deciding whether to back him for four more years.

Biden largely got through his speech without any major hiccups, though he did appear to accidentally read stage instructions from his prepared remarks while presenting the medal to Stoltenberg.

Though foreign diplomats were horrified by Biden’s debate performance, the president has several more chances to prove himself this week – including during a solo press conference on Thursday.

This story has been updated with additional developments on Tuesday.

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