Biden and Zelensky sign 10-year security pact, but future US support uncertain

Agreement does not commit US troops, but does agree to sustainable funding for Ukraine’s defense; pact can be canceled with 6 months’ notice, however, leaving future unclear

US President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, left, shake hands after signing a security agreement on the sidelines of the G7, June 13, 2024, in Savelletri, Italy. (AP/Alex Brandon)
US President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, left, shake hands after signing a security agreement on the sidelines of the G7, June 13, 2024, in Savelletri, Italy. (AP/Alex Brandon)

FASANO, Italy (AP) — US President Joe Biden and Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky signed a 10-year security agreement Thursday that they hailed as a milestone in relations between their countries, but that alone was not enough to stop Zelensky from wondering how much longer he could count on America’s support.

Zelensky also said his country “urgently” needed additional air defense systems to protect Ukrainians and the nation’s infrastructure from Russia’s continued bombardment.

The leaders signed the agreement on the sidelines of the annual Group of Seven summit, held this year in Italy, and Biden said the goal “is to strengthen Ukraine’s defense and deterrence capabilities.”

Zelensky said at a joint news conference that the signing made for a “truly historic day,” but he also wondered about the durability of support from the United States and other allies.

Ukraine’s president said the right question to ask is “For how long the unity in the world will remain? The unity in the US, together with European leaders” and how it will be influenced by the outcome of elections this year in many of those countries.

Topping that list is voting in the US in November in a campaign that could see the return of Republican Donald Trump to the presidency. Trump has been skeptical of providing additional military aid to Ukraine, at one point criticizing the “endless flow of American treasure.” He more recently expressed openness to lending money instead and has said Ukraine’s independence is important to the United States.

US President Joe Biden, left, and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky leave after they signed a bilateral security agreement during the sidelines of the G7 summit at Savelletri, Italy, Thursday, June 13, 2024. (AP/Andrew Medichini)

Biden said the US has commitments from five countries that he did not name to provide Patriot missiles and other air defense systems to Ukraine. He said countries that have been expecting the same weapons from the US have been told they will have to wait because “everything we have is going to go to Ukraine until their needs are met.”

Zelensky said he “urgently” needed seven Patriot systems. Biden then told him, “You’ll have some relatively quickly.”

Germany is one of the five countries that have promised an additional Patriot system for Ukraine.

Zelensky went on to deliver a stark warning about Russian aggression, saying that “if Ukraine does not withstand, the democracy of many countries, I am sure, won’t withstand either.”

The US and European countries also agreed to keep sanctioned Russian assets locked up until Moscow pays reparations for its invasion of Ukraine, clearing the way for a $50 billion loan package for Ukraine. Combined with new sanctions against Russia announced earlier in the week, Biden said the series of actions to support Ukraine show Putin that “he cannot wait us out. He cannot divide us.”

The highly anticipated agreement will leverage interest and income from more than $260 billion in frozen Russian assets, largely held in Europe, to secure a $50 billion loan from the US and additional loans from other partners. Ukraine will receive the first payments sometime this year, a US official said. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview the agreement, which will be included in the G7 leaders’ statement on Friday.

Ukraine will be able to spend the money in several areas, including military, economic, humanitarian and reconstruction needs, the official said.

From left, European Council President Charles Michel, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, US President Joe Biden, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stand for a group photo at the G7, June 13, 2024, in Borgo Egnazia, Italy. (AP/Alex Brandon)

The leaders’ statement on Friday will also preserve the option of confiscating the Russian assets entirely, for which the allies have yet to secure the political will, largely citing legal and financial stability concerns.

Biden and Zelensky met Thursday for the second time in two weeks to discuss the security agreement as the group of wealthy democracies has been looking for new ways to bolster Ukraine’s defenses against Russia.

The agreement on using frozen Russian assets to benefit Ukraine comes several months after the White House broke through a logjam in Congress that had stalled approval of some $60 billion in US aid for Ukraine. The delay gave Russia time to make up ground on the battlefield. Biden publicly apologized to Zelenskyy for the holdup when they met last week in France.

The security agreement does not commit US troops directly to Ukraine’s defense against Russia. Biden does not want the US to be pulled into a direct conflict with nuclear-armed Moscow.

The pact, which would remain in effect for 10 years, does not offer Ukraine any new money but includes a commitment by the US to work with Congress on a source of sustainable funding for the future. Text of the agreement released by the White House also describes how the US will coordinate with Ukraine and other US allies and partners to ensure Ukraine has the military, intelligence and other means necessary to defend itself and deter Russian aggression.

The US and Ukraine would also consult “at the highest levels” in the event of a future armed attack by Russia against Ukraine. Either side can terminate the agreement in writing with six months’ notice, which means a future US president, including Trump if elected in November, could cancel the arrangement.

File – Republican presidential candidate, former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Las Vegas. (AP/John Locher)

Scores of countries and organizations are set to meet over the weekend in Switzerland to discuss peace for Ukraine. Biden is not attending the summit, which has disappointed Zelensky. Vice President Kamala Harris will represent the US instead while the Democratic president attends a campaign fundraiser in Los Angeles.

It wasn’t just Ukraine that occupied the allies’ attention.

Biden announced that Italy was joining a G7 initiative to provide development assistance to Africa, which is meant as a bulwark against growing Chinese influence on the continent. Biden said $60 billion mobilized by the US and the G7 is proof “democracies can deliver,” as the US and its allies warn that China’s investments come attached with geopolitical and economic demands.

The annual summit opened Thursday in Italy’s picturesque Puglia region in the south, with leaders meeting in private to discuss the wars in Gaza and Ukraine and other mutual concerns.

The Group of Seven industrialized democracies — the US, Britain, Canada, France, German, Italy and Japan, plus European governing bodies — meets annually. Italy holds the rotating presidency this year, and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is hosting her counterparts.

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