By JILL LAWLESS, JOSEPH WILSON and SYLVIE CORBET
MADRID (AP) — NATO said Russia was the “most significant and direct threat” to the peace and security of its members, as the military alliance met on Wednesday to deal with a what the NATO chief called the biggest security crisis since World War II.
He also promised to “intensify political and practical support” for Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion.
But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has faulted NATO for not embracing his embattled country more fully and has called for more weapons to defeat Moscow’s forces.
Russia’s invasion of its neighbor shattered the peace of Europe, prompted NATO to pour troops and weapons into Eastern Europe on a scale not seen since the Cold War, and was to give the defense organization two new members in Sweden and Finland.
“President (Vladimir) Putin’s war against Ukraine has shattered the peace in Europe and created the biggest security crisis in Europe since World War II,” said Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
The alliance has pledged more support for Ukraine, which has already received billions in military and civilian aid from NATO countries. But Zelenskyy lamented that NATO’s open-door policy for new members does not seem to apply to his country.
“NATO’s open door policy shouldn’t be like the old Kyiv metro turnstiles, which stay open but close when you approach until you pay,” Zelenskyy told leaders via video link. of the 30 NATO countries meeting in Madrid. “Hasn’t Ukraine paid enough?
He called for more modern artillery systems and other weapons and warned leaders that they must either give Ukraine the help it needed to defeat Russia or “face a delayed war.” between Russia and yourself”.
“The question is who is next? Moldova? Or the Baltic? Or Poland? The answer is: all,” he said. “We are deterring Russia to prevent it from destroying us and you.”
Zelenskyy acknowledged that NATO membership is a distant prospect. The alliance is trying to strike a delicate balance, letting its member countries arm Ukraine without triggering a direct confrontation between NATO and nuclear-armed Russia.
Under NATO treaties, an attack on one member would be considered an attack on all and would trigger a military response from the entire alliance.
US President Joe Biden, whose country provides the bulk of NATO’s military power, promised the Madrid summit would send “an unequivocal message… that NATO is strong and united”.
“We are stepping up. We are proving that NATO is more needed now than it has ever been,” Biden said. He announced a large increase in US military presence in Europe, including a permanent US base in Poland, two more Navy destroyers based in Rota, Spain, and two more F35 squadrons in the UK.
Yet tensions among NATO allies have also arisen as the cost of energy and other essentials has soared, in part because of the war and tough Western sanctions on Russia. There are also tensions over how the war will end and what concessions, if any, Ukraine should make to stop the fighting.
Money could also be a sensitive issue – only nine of NATO’s 30 members currently meet the organization’s goal of spending 2% of gross domestic product on defence.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose country hits the target, urged NATO allies “to dig deep to restore deterrence and deliver defense in the decade to come”.
The war has already triggered a big increase in NATO forces in Eastern Europe, and the allies are expected to agree at the summit to increase the alliance’s rapid reaction force eightfold, from 40,000 to 300,000 troops. , by next year. The troops will be based in their home countries but dedicated to specific countries on NATO’s eastern flank, where the alliance plans to build up stockpiles of equipment and ammunition.
Stoltenberg said it was part of “the biggest overhaul of our collective defense since the end of the Cold War”.
Leaders are also set to release NATO’s new Strategic Concept, its set of priorities and goals for a decade.
The last such document, in 2010, called Russia a “strategic partner”. Now the alliance is set to declare Moscow its No. 1 threat. The document will also lay out NATO’s approach to issues ranging from cybersecurity to climate change – and China’s growing economic and military reach. .
For the first time, the leaders of Japan, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand are attending the summit as guests, reflecting the growing importance of Asia and the region of the Pacific.
Stoltenberg said China was not NATO’s adversary, but posed “challenges to our values, our interests and our security.”
Biden was scheduled to hold a rare meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on the sidelines of the summit, focusing on North Korea’s nuclear program.
The summit opened with a problem solved, after Turkey agreed on Tuesday to drop its opposition to Sweden and Finland joining NATO. In response to the invasion, the two Nordic nations abandoned their long-standing non-aligned status and asked to join NATO to protect against an increasingly aggressive and unpredictable Russia – which shares a long border with Finland. .
NATO operates by consensus and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to block the Nordic pair, insisting they change their stance on Kurdish rebel groups Turkey considers terrorists.
After urgent talks at the highest level with the leaders of the three countries, Stoltenberg said the impasse had been resolved.
Turkey hailed Tuesday’s deal as a triumph, saying the Nordic countries had agreed to crack down on groups Ankara sees as national security threats, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, also seen as a terrorist group. by the United States and the EU, and his Syrian party. extension. He said they had also agreed “not to impose embargo restrictions in the field of defense industry” on Turkey and to take “concrete steps for the extradition of terrorist criminals”.
Stoltenberg said leaders of the 30-nation alliance would issue a formal invitation to the two countries on Wednesday. The decision must be ratified by all individual nations, but he said he was “absolutely confident” that Finland and Sweden would become members.
Stoltenberg said he expected the process to be completed “rather quickly,” but did not set a deadline.
Associated Press writer Zeke Miller in Madrid contributed.
Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.