NATO’s 75th anniversary summit was meant to showcase the triumph of a larger, stronger alliance. Instead, leaders are coming together in Washington in the shadow of setbacks in Ukraine and electoral headwinds on both sides of the Atlantic.

US President Joe Biden, fighting for his political life after a disastrous debate against NATO skeptic Donald Trump, will turn his attention away from campaigning to welcome leaders of the 32-nation transatlantic alliance for three days from Tuesday.

Biden has also invited the leaders of Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, a sign of NATO’s growing role in Asia in the face of a rising China.

But the star of the summit is set to be Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is looking for firm signs of support although NATO will not be extending his country an invitation to join.

Founded in 1949 to provide collective defense against the Soviet Union, NATO returned in some ways to its original mission when allies rallied to Ukraine’s defense after it was invaded by Russia in 2022.

Ukrainians heartened most of the West by repelling Russia in its push for a quick victory. But Moscow’s troops have been grinding on, making advances in the east.

A European official acknowledged the mood ahead of the NATO summit has become “gloomy” with Ukraine slipping on a fragile frontline.

“This summit will be very different from the initial plans because it is happening at a critical juncture for European security,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

“Russia is today in a situation which is quite comfortable. They think they can simply wait it out,” he said.


NATO’s outgoing secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, has led efforts to put the alliance itself, not the United States, in the lead in coordinating military assistance for Ukraine.

Stoltenberg also wants allies to commit to provide at least 40 billion euros ($43 billion) per year in military aid to Ukraine, ensuring reliable and consistent support as Kyiv prepares for a long war against Russia.

Diplomats have dubbed such measures as “Trump-proofing” the alliance, although few believe that NATO or support for Ukraine could endure in the same way without the United States, which under Biden has approved $175 billion for Kyiv in military and other assistance.

The summit also comes on the heels of two more nations joining NATO — Finland and Sweden — which both overcame earlier reluctance to formally enter the alliance after witnessing the invasion of Ukraine, which had unsuccessfully sought membership.

Diplomats say that the United States is eager to stage a smooth, drama-free meeting and avoid the bitter recriminations at NATO’s summit last year in Lithuania, where Zelensky failed to win firmer commitments for Ukraine to join the alliance.

Ukrainian officials acknowledge there is no chance of a change of heart in Washington. Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have led opposition to Ukrainian membership, believing that admitting a country already at war would be tantamount to NATO itself confronting nuclear-armed Russia.

Biden instead has reached a 10-year security agreement with Ukraine, with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin saying the United States will soon announce $2.3 billion in new military assistance.

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