NATIONAL NEWS

Biden and Zelenskyy will sign a security deal, as G7 leaders agree to use Russian cash to help Kyiv

Jun 12, 2024, 6:09 AM | Updated: 3:16 pm

BRINDISI, Italy (AP) — President Joe Biden and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will sign a bilateral security agreement between the U.S. and Ukraine on Thursday when they meet on the sidelines of frozen Russian assets.

The international group of wealthy democracies has been discussing ways of using the more than $260 billion in Russian assets frozen outside the country after the Feb. 24, 2022 invasion of Ukraine to help Kyiv.

European officials have resisted confiscating the assets, citing legal and financial stability concerns — most of the frozen assets are located in Europe — but the plan would use the interest earned on the assets to help Ukraine’s war effort. An official with the French presidency confirmed the agreement Wednesday, saying most of the money would be flowing to Ukraine in the form of a loan from the U.S. government backed by the proceeds of the frozen Russian assets in the European Union. Two other people familiar with the matter confirmed the arrangement.

Final technical negotiations were underway ahead of the summit to finalize the legal terms of the deal.

The announcement of the agreement comes as Biden landed in Italy to attend frozen Russian assets into billions of dollars to help Ukraine fight Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war machine.

The security arrangement was aimed to send a signal to Russia of American resolve in supporting Kyiv, the White House said as Biden was headed to Europe.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan said the security agreement would not commit U.S. troops directly to Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s invasion — a red line drawn by Biden, who’s fearful of being pulled into direct conflict between the nuclear-armed powers.

“We want to demonstrate that the U.S. supports the people of Ukraine, that we stand with them and that we’ll continue to help address their security needs,” Sullivan said, adding “this agreement will show our resolve.”

Sullivan said aboard Air Force One that the goal of the financing plan was to have a loan that would “pull forward the windfall profits from the seized assets” of Russia, giving Ukraine a “substantial source of funding” to meet its immediate needs.

The national security adviser said he had a specific sum of money in mind, but declined to say if that figure was $50 billion. He stressed the urgency of getting Ukraine financial resources as soon as possible and that multiple countries would back the agreement.

“It’s to provide the necessary resources to Ukraine now for its economic energy and other needs, so that it’s capable of having the resilience necessary to withstand Russia’s continuing aggression,” Sullivan said.

This year’s meeting comes three years after Biden declared at his first such gathering that America was back as a global leader following the disruptions to Western alliances that occurred when Donald Trump was president. Now, there’s a chance this gathering could be the final G7 for Biden and other G7 leaders, depending on the results of elections this year.

Biden and his counterparts from Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Japan will use the summit to discuss challenges related to artificial intelligence, migration, the Russian military’s resurgence and China’s economic might, among other topics. Pope Francis, Zelenskyy and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are joining the gathering at the Borgo Egnazia resort in the Puglia region of southern Italy.

The summit, opening Thursday, will play out after far-right parties across the continent racked up gains of surprising scale in just-concluded European Union elections. Those victories — coupled with upcoming elections in the United Kingdom, France and the United States — have rattled the global political establishment and added weightiness to this year’s summit.

“You hear this a lot when you talk to U.S. and European officials: If we can’t get this done now, whether it’s on China, whether it’s on the assets, we may not have another chance,” said Josh Lipsky, senior director of the Atlantic Council’s GeoEconomics Center, an international affairs think tank. “We don’t know what the world will look like three months, six months, nine months from now.”

The G7 is an informal bloc of industrialized democracies that meets annually to discuss shared issues and concerns. Biden will arrive in Italy on Wednesday night, his second trip outside the U.S. in as many weeks. The Democratic president was in France last week for a state visit in Paris and ceremonies in Normandy marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings in World War II.

While last week’s visit had a celebratory feel, this one will be dominated by pressing global issues, including how to keep financial support flowing to Ukraine as it fights Russia’s invasion. Biden’s trip comes a day after his son Hunter was convicted on federal gun charges, a blow sure to weigh heavily on the president’s mind.

Despite pressing global challenges, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said there’s still a sense of relief among world leaders in 2024 that “America was back,” referencing Biden’s 2021 speech at the G7 in England.

“Biden’s message then was that democracies need to step up and show they can deliver for their people,” Kirby said. “That’s true now more than ever.”

Kirby said the U.S. was prepared to work with democratically elected officials in the EU no matter who they are, though some of those being elevated have expressed far less support for Ukraine than current leaders.

“We have every confidence that regardless of who fills the seats in the European Parliament, we’re going to continue to work closely with our EU partners on all the issues relative to our shared interests across the European continent,” Kirby said. “That includes supporting Ukraine.”

Biden and Zelenskyy, who met last week in Paris, will meet again to discuss continued support for the Eastern European nation, which is trying to fend off an intense Russian offensive in eastern areas of the country. They’re expected to hold a joint news conference. Biden is also expected to meet with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, the pope and other leaders.

Biden, who’s been adamant “we will not walk away” from Ukraine, last week publicly apologized to Zelenskyy for a monthslong delay by Congress in authorizing additional American military assistance. The delay allowed Russia to make gains on the battlefield.

Sullivan called the security agreement a “bridge” to when Ukraine is invited to join the NATO alliance — a long-term priority of Zelenskyy’s that the allies have said will first require an end to the Russia-Ukraine war and that Putin has steadfastly opposed.

Biden’s back-to-back trips to France and Italy amount to a rare doubleheader of diplomacy in the midst of the presidential election. The president will skip a Ukraine peace conference in Switzerland this weekend to jet to Los Angeles for a campaign fundraiser with big names from Hollywood. Vice President Kamala Harris will represent the U.S. at the conference.

Despite the delays in military aid, the Biden administration on Tuesday announced it would send Ukraine another Patriot missile system to help fend off Russian strikes, two U.S. officials told The Associated Press. Biden approved the move, the officials told the AP, as Kyiv has desperately called for more air defenses in its battle against an intense Russian assault on the northeastern Kharkiv region.

Earlier Wednesday, the U.S. announced fresh sanctions targeting Chinese companies that help Russia pursue its war in Ukraine, as well as Russia’s financial infrastructure. Sullivan said, “These actions will ratchet up the risk that foreign financial institutions take by dealing with Russia’s war economy.”

Biden is also expected to discuss economic concerns brought on by Chinese manufacturing overcapacity, how to use artificial intelligence in a way that maximizes benefits but still manages national security risks, and global migration.

The U.S. and other G7 nations are struggling to manage large influxes of migrants arriving for complicated reasons that include war, climate change and drought. Migration, and how nations cope with the growing numbers at their borders, has been a factor driving the far-right rise in some of Europe.

___

Superville reported from Bari, Italy. Miller and Madhani reported from Washington. Sylvie Corbet in Paris and Fatima Hussein and Josh Boak in Washington contributed.

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