President Biden Says U.S. Will Support Ukraine for “As Long as It Takes”

From a Wall Street Journal story by Yuliya Chernova, Ann M. Simmons, Stephen Kalin, and Alex Leary headlined  “U.S. to Support Ukraine for ‘As Long as It Takes,’ Biden Says”:

At the end of six days of international summitry, President Biden pledged to support Ukraine for “as long as it takes,” as Russia’s war drags on and Western countries pour billions of dollars in arms and humanitarian aid into the conflict.

Speaking Thursday at the conclusion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s gathering in Madrid, Mr. Biden pledged the war wouldn’t end with a Ukrainian defeat.

“This summit was about strengthening our alliances, meeting the challenges of our world as it is today and the threats we’re going to face in the future,” said Mr. Biden.

Wealthy democracies allied with Ukraine, in two successive summits, pledged collectively to bolster Europe’s defenses against Russian aggression and further increase economic pressure on Moscow.

The U.S. committed to its biggest military expansion in Europe since the Cold War at the NATO summit Wednesday, including its first permanent troop presence in Poland, while members struck a preliminary deal to add the formerly neutral nations of Sweden and Finland to the alliance.

If approved, their accession would transform the security landscape of Northern Europe and give the alliance a valuable edge against Russia. Finland, in particular, has a long border with Russia.

Earlier in the week, the Group of Seven rich democracies agreed to discuss a batch of new sanctions against Russia. But the gathering underlined the limits of using economic tools to punish Moscow, which has kept its economy afloat with oil and gas exports.

Meanwhile, Thursday Russia said its forces withdrew from a strategically important Ukrainian island on the Black Sea, and Russian President Vladimir Putin said he wouldn’t set a deadline for the end of his war on the country, now in its fifth month.

Russia captured Snake Island at the start of the war and it has since become a symbol of Ukraine’s resistance.

Referring to Snake Island by its Ukrainian name, Zmiinyi Island, President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address that the Russian pullout “significantly changes the situation in the Black Sea.’’

He added, “It does not guarantee safety yet, it does not yet guarantee that the enemy will not return. But it already limits the actions of the occupiers significantly.’’

Ukraine’s southern command said Russia’s pullout came after Ukrainian forces targeted the island with missile and artillery strikes overnight, causing the remnants of the occupying forces to evacuate in two speedboats. The statement also said the island is on fire.

Snake Island has been an offshore platform for Russia to aim weapons at Ukraine. Control over the island allowed Russia to monitor shipments from Ukrainian ports.

The island has become part of Ukrainian lore since the first day of Russia’s invasion in February, when the Moskva flagship approached Snake Island and demanded Ukrainian troops surrender, prompting one defender to address the warship with an expletive. A subsequent artillery attack from the ship prompted Ukraine to give up the island.

Later, Ukraine sank the Moskva in what it described as retribution for the episode. Kyiv used the warship and the Snake Island slogan as a motif for a stamp it issued in April.

The Russian Defense Ministry said its troops left the small island “as a symbol of goodwill” after completing their mission there. This, it said, demonstrates that Russia doesn’t interfere with the export of Ukrainian grain, following the wishes of the United Nations, and that it is now up to Ukraine to clear mines and allow the safe passage of cargo ships in the Black Sea.

Kyiv has blamed Russia, which controls all of Ukraine’s major Black Sea ports apart from Odessa, for blocking port access and grain exports.

Grain shipments have been thwarted during the war, causing global alarm. Many developing nations, especially in the Middle East, are dependent on Ukraine and Russia for their wheat.

A cargo ship carrying 7,000 tons of grain left the port of Russian-occupied Berdyansk on Thursday, the first such shipment from the port in months, according to a Russian state-media report citing Yevhen Balytskyi, an official with the Russian-backed government in the Russian-controlled part of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region. The media reported that this was government-owned grain and that the ship is sailing toward “friendly countries.”

Mr. Putin said the goals of what he calls his special military operation in Ukraine are on track and would continue as planned, signaling that the war, which has caused significant destruction and taken tens of thousands of civilian lives according to Ukraine, isn’t likely to end soon.

“Nothing has changed,” he told reporters during a foreign trip late Wednesday, noting that the ultimate goal remains what he described as the “liberation” of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, the protection of its people and “the creation of conditions that would guarantee the security of Russia itself.”

Mr. Putin also warned that Moscow would respond if NATO expanded to Sweden and Finland. Should the alliance deploy troops and military infrastructure along Russia’s borders, he said, Moscow would adopt similar measures.

“We have nothing that could be worrying from the point of view of Finland’s and Sweden’s membership in NATO, as we do with Ukraine,” he said. “They are free to do it if they want. But they should clearly understand that there used to be no threats to them and now we will have to respond in a tit-for-tat manner.”

A senior U.S. intelligence official said Wednesday that Mr. Putin remains intent on seizing most of Ukraine, but there is a mismatch between his objectives and the capability of his military, degraded after months of warfare.

U.S. intelligence agencies believe the most likely scenario in the months ahead is a grinding war of attrition, with Russian forces making only incremental gains, said U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.

After failing to take Kyiv in spring, the Kremlin has set its sights on seizing all of Donbas, the eastern Ukraine area that includes Luhansk and Donetsk and was once the economic engine of the country. Its military has concentrated its firepower on smaller targets in eastern Ukraine, blasting with artillery and air power then sending in troops to seize largely destroyed towns.

In response, the Ukrainian military has sought to tie up large numbers of Russian troops by holding out for weeks in ever-smaller pockets, wearing the enemy down and then pulling out to fight another day.

After overtaking Severodonetsk in Luhansk, Russian forces are intensifying their attack across the river on Lysychansk. The attackers are now seeking to take control of the highway linking Lysychansk to Bakhmut, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said on Thursday.

Russian forces were attempting to surround Lysychansk from the south, removing the need for a new crossing of the Siverskyi Donets River, the British Ministry of Defense said in its daily intelligence assessment. Moscow has suffered heavy losses in previous attempts to cross the river.

The ministry said ground combat was currently likely focused on the Lysychansk oil refinery about 6 miles southwest of the city center.

Alongside its ground offensive in the east, Moscow has repeatedly fired missiles at targets across Ukraine, destroying civilian infrastructure, residential areas and military installations.

In his comments to reporters, Mr. Putin denied that Russia was responsible for the missile strike on Monday that killed at least 20 people at a shopping mall in the Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk.

“The Russian army does not strike at any civilian targets—there is no need,” he told reporters. “We have every opportunity to determine what is where, and with modern long-range precision weapons, we achieve these goals.”

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