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White House says Ukraine has long aspired to join NATO

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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday (6 April) that Ukraine has long aspired to join NATO as a member and that the Biden administration has been discussing that aspiration with the country, write Trevor Hunnicutt and Nandita Bose in Washington.

“We are strong supporters of them, we are engaged with them… but that is a decision for NATO to make,” Psaki said.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called on NATO on Tuesday to lay out a path for Ukraine to join the alliance, after Russia has massed troops near the conflict-hit Donbass region.

coronavirus

Biden G7 and NATO to-do list: Unite allies, fight autocracy, attack COVID-19

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President Joe Biden’s meeting with leaders of the G7 leading industrial economies in an English seaside village this week will usher in a new focus on rallying US allies against common adversaries - the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia and China, Reuters.

New COVID-19 variants and rising death tolls in some countries will loom large during the gathering from Friday to Sunday (11-13 June), alongside climate change, strengthening global supply chains and ensuring the West maintains its technological edge over China, the world's second-largest economy.

Biden, a Democrat, vowed to rebuild relations with allies after four rocky years under former President Donald Trump, who pulled Washington out of several multilateral institutions and threatened at one point to quit NATO.

"In this moment of global uncertainty, as the world still grapples with a once-in-a-century pandemic, this trip is about realizing America’s renewed commitment to our allies and partners," Biden wrote in an opinion piece published by the Washington Post on Saturday.

The gathering will put Biden's "America is back" motto to the test, with allies disillusioned during the Trump years looking for tangible, lasting action.

It is a pivotal moment for the United States and the world, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on CNN on Sunday.

"Is international cooperation going to be restored or are we still in this world where nationalism, protectionism and to some extent isolationism are dominating?" Brown asked.

Russia will be at the forefront of attention at the G7 summit in Cornwall, England, and the days afterward when Biden meets with European leaders and NATO allies in Brussels, before heading to Geneva to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The recent ransomware attack on JBS (JBSS3.SA), the world’s largest meatpacker, by a criminal group likely based in Russia, and Putin’s financial backing for Belarus after it forced a Ryanair (RYA.I) flight to land so it could arrest a dissident journalist on board, are pushing U.S. officials to consider sharper action.

On the sidelines of the NATO summit, Biden is also expected to meet with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, a crucial session between the sparring NATO allies after Ankara's purchase of Russian defense systems angered Washington and risked driving a wedge within the alliance.

G7 finance ministers reached a landmark global deal on Saturday (5 June to set a minimum global corporate tax rate of at least 15%, potentially hitting giant tech companies like Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google, Facebook Inc (FB.O) and Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN.O) Biden and his counterparts will give the deal their final blessing in Cornwall. The Biden administration, which on Thursday (3 June) detailed its plans to donate 80 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines globally by the end of June, is leaning heavily on allies to follow suit as the global pandemic death toll approaches 4 million, US and diplomatic sources say.

Washington reversed course last month and backed negotiations over waivers for intellectual property protections at the World Trade Organization to speed vaccine production in developing countries, much to the chagrin of Germany and Britain.

European diplomats say they see little common ground on the issue, and argue that any WTO compromise would take months to finalize and implement. That may prove a moot point if sufficient vaccine doses are shared with developing countries to slow - and eventually halt - the pandemic.

Biden announced plans in May to require U.S. government contractors and financial institutions to be more transparent about the climate change risks faced by their investments, and administration officials are pushing other countries to adopt similar plans.

The UK also wants governments to require businesses to report such risks as a way to boost investment in green projects. But agreement on a way forward is unlikely to come in June. A deal could emerge at a U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.

G7 countries also have different views on carbon pricing, which the International Monetary Fund views as a key way to curb carbon dioxide emissions and reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

The Biden administration will urge allies to unite against China over allegations of forced labor in Xinjiang province, home to the Muslim Uighur minority, even as it seeks to maintain Beijing as an ally in the climate change fight.

Sources following the discussions say they expect G7 leaders to adopt strong language on the forced labor issue. China denies all accusations of abuse in Xinjiang.

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Biden to join eastern European NATO states summit, focus seen on Ukraine

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US President Joe Biden (pictured) joined a virtual summit of eastern European NATO states held in the Romanian capital Bucharest on Monday (10 May), Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said, with a focus on security in the Black Sea region and Ukraine.

The summit of the Bucharest Nine, a group of European countries on the eastern edge of NATO, will be jointly hosted by Iohannis and Poland's President Andrzej Duda and aims at coordinating the security positions of countries in the region.

"Glad to welcome Joe Biden to the Bucharest9 Summit which I host in Bucharest today," Iohannis said on his Twitter account.

"Together with President Andrzej Duda we'll also welcome ... Jens Stoltenberg in preparation of NATO Summit, focusing on Transatlantic ties, NATO 2030, defence and deterrence on the eastern flank."

Biden, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and the presidents of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia will video-conference into the gathering.

"In ... the statement that the nine will publish after the meeting there will be the issue of security in the Black Sea region and the related security issues in Ukraine," the head of Poland's National Security Bureau, Pawel Soloch, told reporters.

Earlier this month, Washington said it could increase security help for Kyiv after Russia moved troops near its border with Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, where Ukrainian troops are in conflict with Moscow-backed separatists.

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Russia and Ukraine hold military drills, NATO criticizes Russian troop build-up

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Russia and Ukraine held simultaneous military drills on Wednesday as NATO foreign and defence ministers began emergency discussions on a massing of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border, write Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Robin Emmott.

On the rebel frontline in Ukraine

Washington and NATO have been alarmed by the large build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Crimea, the peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and two U.S. warships are due to arrive in the Black Sea this week.

Ahead of the arrival of the U.S. warships, the Russian navy on Wednesday began a drill in the Black Sea that rehearsed firing at surface and air targets. The drill came a day after NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called on Moscow to end its troop build-up.

Russia - which said the US naval move was an unfriendly provocation and warned Washington to stay far away from Crimea and its Black Sea coast - says the build-up is a three-week snap military drill to test combat readiness in response to what it calls threatening behaviour from NATO. It has said the exercise is due to wrap up within two weeks.

In Ukraine, armed forces rehearsed repelling a tank and infantry attack near the border of Russian-annexed Crimea while its defence minister, Andrii Taran, told European parliamentarians in Brussels that Russia was preparing to potentially store nuclear weapons in Crimea.

Taran provided no evidence for his assertion but said Russia was massing 110,000 troops on Ukraine’s border in 56 battalion-sized tactical groups, citing Kyiv’s latest intelligence.

Fighting has increased in recent weeks in eastern Ukraine, where government forces have battled Russian-backed separatists in a seven-year conflict that Kyiv says has killed 14,000 people.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who held talks in Brussels with Stoltenberg ahead of a video conference of all 30 NATO allies, said the alliance would “address Russia’s aggressive actions in and around Ukraine”, without elaborating.

Russia’s relations with the United States slumped to a new post-Cold War low last month after US President Joe Biden said he thought Vladimir Putin was a “killer”.

In a phone call with Putin on Tuesday, Biden proposed holding a summit between the estranged leaders to tackle a raft of issues, including reducing tensions over Ukraine.

The Kremlin on Wednesday said it was too early to talk about such a summit in tangible terms and that holding such a meeting was contingent on Washington’s future behaviour, in what looked like a thinly veiled reference to potential US sanctions.

Russia has regularly accused NATO of destabilising Europe by bolstering its troops in the Baltic countries and Poland - all members of the Atlantic alliance - in the wake of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.

NATO has denied a claim by Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu that the alliance was deploying 40,000 troops and 15,000 pieces of military equipment near Russia’s borders, mainly in the Black Sea and the Baltic regions.

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