WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden will travel to Europe later this week on a three-country trip intended to bolster the international coalition against Russian aggression as the war in Ukraine drags well into its second year.
The main focus of Biden’s five-day visit will be the annual NATO summit, to be held this year in Vilnius, Lithuania. Stops are also planned in Helsinki, Finland, to commemorate the Nordic country’s entry into the 31-nation military alliance in April, and in Britain, the White House announced on Sunday.
Biden will begin his trip next Sunday in London, meeting King Charles III. The president did not attend Charles’ coronation in May, sending first lady Jill Biden to represent the United States. In June, Biden hosted British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the White House, where the two leaders pledged to continue their cooperation in defending Ukraine.
The NATO meeting comes at the last critical point of the war. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said counter-offensive and defensive actions against Russian forces were underway as Ukrainian troops began to retake territory in the southeast of the country, according to its military leaders.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg visited the White House on June 13, where he and Biden made it clear that the Western alliance was united in defense of Ukraine. Biden said at that meeting that he and other NATO leaders will work to ensure that each member country spends the required 2% of its gross domestic product on defense.
“NATO allies have never been so united. We both worked hard to make this happen. And so far so good,” Biden said as he sat alongside Stoltenberg, who is expected to extend his term for another year. “We see our common strength in modernizing relations within NATO, as well as in providing assistance to Ukraine’s defense capabilities.
When Finland joined NATO in April, it effectively doubled Russia’s border with the world’s largest security alliance. Biden pointed to the strengthened NATO alliance as a signal of Moscow’s declining influence.
Sweden is also seeking to join NATO, although alliance members Turkey and Hungary have yet to approve the move. Biden will welcome Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson to the White House on Wednesday in a show of solidarity as the United States pushes for the Nordic nation’s entry into NATO.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Sweden is too lax on terror groups and security threats. Stoltenberg said Sweden had fulfilled its membership obligations by toughening anti-terrorism laws and other measures.
Hungary’s reasons for opposing Sweden were less defined, complaining about Sweden’s criticism of democratic backsliding and the erosion of the rule of law. Hungary, while providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine, has also sought to balance its relationship between NATO and Russia. Budapest is heavily dependent on Russia for its energy needs.
All nations of the alliance must ratify the entry of a new member country.
The White House stressed that Sweden had fulfilled its NATO membership commitments and urged that it join the alliance soon.
Associated Press writer Colleen Long contributed to this report.