On Trip to NATO’s Newest Member, Biden Vows to Defend ‘Every Inch’ of Alliance

Depicting the world as facing a pivotal moment in history, President Biden vowed on Thursday during a visit to Finland to defend “every inch” of the alliance’s territory, closing out a European trip showcasing the alliance’s renewed energy since Russia invaded Ukraine last year.

Mr. Biden arrived in Finland, NATO’s newest member, fresh from a pivotal meeting of NATO leaders in Vilnius, Lithuania, where leaders worked hard to show unity in support of Ukraine. At a news conference with the Finnish president, Sauli Niinisto, Mr. Biden portrayed the current moment as “an inflection point,” in which the “decisions we make now will determine the course of history for the next four, five, six decades.”

“At this critical moment in history, this inflection point, the world watching to see, will we do the hard work that matters to forge a better future? Will we stand together, will we stand with one another? Will we stay committed to our course?” Mr. Biden said.

Finland’s entry into NATO is a strong rebuke to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who has cited the mutual-defense alliance’s eastward expansion as a reason for launching the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Mr. Biden promised his Finnish counterpart that “as your ally, we want the people of Finland to know, the United States is committed to Finland, committed to NATO.”

“We’ll defend every inch of NATO territory and that includes Finland,” he said.

Ukraine is also seeking to join NATO. At the summit in Vilnius, NATO member nations made their strongest pledges yet that Ukraine would become a member, though they provided no framework on when and how that would happen.

For the first time, Mr. Biden had some advice to offer Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, Mr. Putin’s former caterer and the head of Wagner forces who led the rebellion against the Russian military. “If I were he, I’d be careful what he ate,” he said.

Asked by a reporter about his administration’s efforts to free Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter that the United States has declared “wrongfully detained,” Mr. Biden said that he was serious about negotiating a prisoner exchange.

“I’m serious about doing all we can to free Americans who are being illegally held in Russia — or anywhere else, for that matter,” he said. “And that process is underway.”

Last week, the United States confirmed that it was in talks with Russia about a potential swap, but cautioned that the discussions had not yet produced “a clear pathway to a resolution.” That came after the Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov said that the two countries were in contact about the possibility of a swap.

Mr. Biden held talks with Mr. Niinisto, before attending a summit with other Nordic leaders, including the prime ministers of Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Sweden. He was expected to return to Washington late Thursday after the final news conference with Mr. Niinisto.

Earlier this week, Turkey dropped its objections to Sweden joining NATO, raising that nation’s hopes of rapid accession. The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, later made it clear that the necessary vote in the Turkish Parliament was unlikely to happen before October. He also said Sweden still had to take steps to win over a majority of lawmakers, hinting that there could be other hurdles before the deal is done.

Finland and Sweden jointly asked to join the military alliance last year, abandoning their longstanding policies of military nonalignment in the face of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Turkey held up the process, however, arguing that Sweden was harboring Kurdish militants and others it considers terrorists. Finland then pursued its bid separately, and was able to join NATO in April.

David E. Sanger and Gabriela Sá Pessoa contributed reporting.

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