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Outgoing NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg pledges alliance's continued support for Ukraine

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (left) and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (right).
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (left) and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (right). Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Euronews with AP
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Ahead of a three-day summit marking NATO's 75th anniversary, allies are preparing to make a show of solidarity with Ukraine after an unsettled year.

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Outgoing NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin have vowed to strengthen the alliance's support for Ukraine as its effort to repel Russian forces struggle to regain momentum.

Their meeting Pentagon on Monday came ahead of this week's three-day summit marking the 75th anniversary of the NATO alliance.

Both men vowed to further build upon the organisation's progress in the face of unprecedented challenges, in particular Russia's war in Ukraine. They also took the chance to condemn a Russian strike on a children's hospital in Kyiv.

"Only today we have seen horrendous missile attacks against the Ukrainian cities, killing innocent civilians, including children," Stoltenberg said of the strike. "I condemn these heinous attacks.

"At the summit, we'll make decisions to further strengthen our support for Ukraine. Russia must understand that they're not able to wait us out."

The summit is the last for Stoltenberg, who will step down later this year after a decade in the role.

He is using the summit to show off some of his own achievements as concern mounts over the implications of NATO-sceptic Donald Trump retaking the US presidency — worries that have been fuelled by President Joe Biden's disastrous performance in a recent debate.

All eyes on Biden

Struggling to hold his reelection campaign together, Biden will be hoping that his interactions at the NATO summit will prove he is still strong and vigorous enough to lead both at home and abroad.

But aside from the US electorate, diplomats and analysts will also be watching closely — although NATO leaders accept they have no control over American elections and are unlikely to weigh in publicly.

“The outcome of the November election matters enormously for NATO and pretty much all heads of state and government in the alliance feel the same way, even if they refuse to discuss it,” said Jeff Rathke, president of the American-German Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

Different member states' defence spending has long been Trump's biggest complaint about NATO, and he has occasionally suggested that should he win another term, the US will not defend countries that don’t comply with the alliance's requirement that members spend 2% of their gross domestic product on defence.

To complicate things further, several countries in Europe continue to face the implications of rising far-right populism and political disarray.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron’s government is facing political uncertainty after left-wing parties united to beat a surging far right into third place in legislative elections but still didn’t win a majority in parliament, throwing the future of French foreign policy into doubt.

Other NATO leaders have complicated the effort to present a united front. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has raised alarm bells by visiting Russia for talks with Vladimir Putin, and Turkish Recep Tayyip Erdoğan remains on good terms with the Kremlin.

Nonetheless, since Russia’s mounted its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, NATO has gained two members in Sweden and Finland, bringing the total to 32.

At the same time, Eastern and Central European members closer to Russia’s borders — the Baltic states, Poland, and the Czech Republic — have stepped up their support both for Ukraine and for NATO as an institution.

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