President Joe Biden on Wednesday hailed the “unbroken” people of Ukraine and the “incredible dignity” with which they’ve acted to repel Russia’s invading forces as he pledged on behalf of the Western world to maintain support for Kyiv’s defence for as long as necessary.
Mr Biden delivered his remarks to a boisterous crowd who’d gathered hours ahead of time to hear him speak in the Great Court at Vilnius University, following the conclusion of this year’s Nato leaders’ summit, at which leaders of the 31-member defence alliance agreed to expedite Ukraine’s bid for membership in the bloc once the war with Russia has been brought to a close.
The president, who was also met with one person in the crowd who held a sign marking him as a supporter of his predecessor, Donald Trump, noted the history of the place where he was speaking, and recalled how the Lithuanian yellow, green and red tricolour flag remained aloft outside the country’s diplomatic mission to Washington, even throughout the Soviet occupation of Lithuania.
He said some of the older attendees in the crowd would “know better than anyone how precious the right to determine your own future is,” and praised Lithuania and the other Baltic states — Estonia and Latvia — for their strenuous advocacy for Ukraine’s defence and for Kyiv’s bid for membership in Nato.
Mr Biden said that all parties involved “want this war to end,” but only on terms that will “uphold the basic principles” of the UN charter concerning national sovereignty and territorial integrity, calling those concepts “two pillars of peaceful relations among nations”.
“One country cannot be allowed to seize his neighbour territory by force,” he said, adding that Moscow “could end this war tomorrow” by pulling back Russian forces from all of Ukraine’s territory, with the caveat that Moscow “has shown thus far no interest” in such an outcome because Russian president Vladimir Putin “still wrongly believes that he can outlast Ukraine”.
“He can't believe it's their land, their country and their future and even after all this time, Putin still doubts their staying power,” Mr Biden said, adding that the Russian leader is “still making a bad bet” by thinking that the “conviction and the unity among the United States and our allies and partners will break down”.
“He still doesn't understand that our commitment, our values, our freedom is something he can never, never, ever ever walk away from. It's who we are,” he said.
“The defence of freedom is not the work of a day or a year. It's the calling of our lifetime — of all time. We’re steeled for the struggle ahead, our unity will not falter, I promise you”.
Mr Biden added that the US and Western commitment to Ukraine’s defence “will not waver”.
“Our commitment to Ukraine will not weaken. We will stand for liberty today, tomorrow, and for as long as it takes,” he said.
The president’s remarks echoed another rousing speech he delivered in Warsaw five months ago, when he pledged “unwavering” support for Ukraine’s defence and Nato’s unity less than 24 hours after a surprise visit to Kyiv.
At the time, he pledged that Ukraine “will never be a victory for Russia,” and it appears that the rest of the West is on board with Mr Biden’s plans.
In addition to the Nato leaders who gathered in Vilnius this week, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida travelled there to unveil a new joint declaration from the Group of Seven in support of Kyiv’s defence.
In remarks delivered following the G7 leaders’ session, Mr Biden said the joint declaration will “make it clear” that support for Kyiv from the world’s largest democracies “will last long into the future”.
“This starts a process by which each of our nations and any other nation who wishes to participate will negotiate long-term bilateral or security commitments with him to Ukraine. We’re going to help Ukraine build a strong capable defence across land, air and sea ... which will enforce stability in the region and deter against any and all threats,” he said.
Mr Biden reiterated the same sentiment a short time later during a bilateral meeting with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.
He praised Mr Zelensky, the actor-turned-politician who has served as Ukraine’s leader since 2019, as having “done an enormous job” and promised that the US and its allies would “make sure that you get what you need”.
“And I look forward to the day when we’re having the meetings celebrating your official membership in Nato, so thank you for what you’re doing,” he said.
For his part, Mr Zelensky thanked the US president for his recent decision to provide Kyiv with cluster munitions for use against Russian troops on Ukrainian soil, telling Mr Biden that the move “will help us to save us”.
The announcement of the joint declaration and the meeting between Mr Biden and Mr Zelensky came after days of tension between the Ukrainian leader and his other Western counterparts over Ukraine’s prospects for membership in Nato.
While the US and many other Nato nations had been skittish about giving Ukraine a path to rapid membership while the war with Russia continues, other states have pushed for an immediate change in Kyiv’s status.
But the joint declaration — and an announcement from Nato that Ukraine could skip the Membership Action Plan previously laid out for the country’s membership bid and join at a future date post-war — appeared to smooth over the tension between the allies and the Ukrainian leader. Asked how long it would take for Nato to accept Ukraine once the war was over, Mr Biden quipped: “An hour and 20 minutes”.
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