By Steve Holland and Trevor Hunnicutt

VILNIUS (Reuters) -President Joe Biden accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of having a “craven lust for land and power” on Wednesday and pledged that the U.S.-led NATO alliance would not falter in supporting Ukraine against Russian aggression.

Speaking in Lithuania at the end of a two-day meeting of NATO leaders on Russia’s doorstep, Biden praised the people of the formerly Soviet-occupied country and heralded the addition of Finland to the alliance and the admission soon of its neighbour Sweden.

Biden, who has made unifying NATO one of his top foreign policy priorities, said Putin had badly underestimated the resolve of the military alliance.

“NATO is stronger, more energized and yes, more united than ever in its history. Indeed, more vital to our shared future. It didn’t happen by accident. It wasn’t inevitable,” Biden said to thousands of people at Vilnius University, many of them cheering him on with Lithuanian and American flags.

“When Putin, and his craven lust for land and power, unleashed his brutal war on Ukraine, he was betting NATO would break apart. He thought NATO would break. He thought our unity would shatter at the first testing. He thought democratic leaders would be weak. But he thought wrong.”

Biden’s speech aimed to rally allies and showcase his role on the world stage ahead of a 2024 re-election campaign focused on healing divisions at home and abroad.

Despite the positive message, U.S. officials privately struggled with their counterparts in Vilnius to forge a consensus on where the war was headed, how to bring it to a close and what assurances to give Ukraine about its future in the Atlantic military alliance, according to four NATO diplomats involved in those conversations.

Ukraine, seeking an invitation to join NATO or at least a specific timetable for accession, received neither. NATO allies, instead, agreed that Ukraine would join eventually, when “allies agree and conditions are met,” their statement said but offered no details on when, if ever, Kyiv would meet such conditions.

Before leaving the United States to attend the summit, Biden bypassed allies’ concerns about approving cluster munitions for Ukraine to battle Russia.


In an implicit contrast with former President Donald Trump, Biden made Washington, by far the largest contributor to the alliance, a driving force for strengthening the group. Trump – the Republican front-runner to challenge Biden, a Democrat, in the November 2024 election – considered pulling out of the defense pact founded at the onset of the Cold War in 1949.

Ivo Daalder, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, said Russia’s invasion was the driving force for Sweden to join NATO.

But he added that Biden’s “pretty important” diplomatic role was critical in ending Turkey’s opposition, for instance in addressing Ankara’s objection over the wording of geographic locations such as Cyprus that had held up approval of the alliance’s new regional defense plans.

“The unheralded story of … this president is that he demonstrates the capacity to walk and chew gum at the same time. He has strengthened alliances in Europe and across Asia in a way that frankly, no other president has, certainly since the end of the Cold War,” Daalder said.

Most Republicans seeking to unseat Biden have largely kept silent about Biden’s performance during the NATO summit, suggesting they see little to gain by criticizing him. There is broad unity in the United States behind Washington’s approach to the Russian invasion 500 days ago, polls show.

Trump has long admired Russian President Vladimir Putin and has expressed skepticism of extended U.S. involvement in the Ukraine war; on Tuesday he criticized Biden’s decision to send munitions to Ukraine.

Trump faces an open primary against candidates including former Vice President Mike Pence and onetime U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, who have pushed for greater support of Ukraine. Haley on Tuesday criticized the NATO alliance and Biden for not committing to add Ukraine.

(Reporting by Steve Holland in Vilnius, Lithuania, and Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington; Additional reporting by Jonathan Landay, Sabine Siebold, Andrew Gray, Doina Chiacu, Jeff Mason and John Irish; Editing by Heather Timmons and Howard Goller)

Brought to you by