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U.S. pact to help Ukraine’s military into future, officials say

U.S. President Joe Biden, right, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy shake hands after signing a bilateral security agreement during a press conference at the Masseria San Domenico on the sidelines of the G7 Summit on Thursday in Savelletri, Italy.  (MANDEL NGAN/AFP)
By David E. Sanger New York Times

President Joe Biden signed a 10-year security agreement with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine on Thursday, an effort to signal a long-term U.S. commitment to the country’s future as an independent and sovereign state at a time when the war set off by Russia’s full-scale invasion is deep into its third year. But the accord could easily be upended by the coming U.S. presidential election.

The deal outlines a long-term effort to train and equip Ukraine’s forces, provide more modern weapons and help Ukrainians build their own self-sustaining military industry that is capable of producing its own arms.

Speaking at the Group of 7 summit in Italy on Thursday, Biden said the agreement was designed to make Ukraine self-sufficient and put the country on the road to NATO membership. The accord is essentially an executive agreement between two presidents.

“Our goal is to strengthen Ukraine’s credible defense and deterrence capabilities for the long term,” Biden said. “A lasting peace for Ukraine must be underwritten by Ukraine’s own ability to defend itself now and to deter future aggression.”

The pact is modeled on the kind of long-term security agreements that the United States has with Israel. But the “Israel model” is based on a congressional agreement to provide billions of dollars in aid. The agreement with Ukraine carries a commitment by the Biden administration only to work with Congress on long-term funding.

Given the bitter monthslong wrangling over the $60 billon in aid to Ukraine that Congress passed this spring, there is little appetite for bringing the issue up again until next year. If Biden were no longer in office, that commitment would mean little.

The new accord does not commit the United States to send forces in to defend Ukrainian territory. According to two administration officials, it requires the United States to “consult” with Ukraine about its needs within hours of any attack on the country.

NATO membership for Ukraine – which Biden has opposed while the war with Russia is still being fought – might compel the U.S. to send forces if the country was reinvaded by Russia. That is one reason Biden has resisted.

While Zelenskyy embraced the agreement at the news conference with Biden on Thursday, Ukrainians are skeptical of these accords. Without congressional funding, the support is largely rhetorical.

Ukrainian officials often talk about the emptiness of the accord known as the Budapest Memorandum, a political agreement signed in December 1994 in which Ukraine agreed to give Russia old Soviet nuclear weapons that had been based in Ukrainian territory. In return, the memorandum committed Russia, the United States and Britain to seek help for Ukraine from the U.N. Security Council if it “should become a victim of an act of aggression or an object of a threat of aggression in which nuclear weapons are used.”

When Russia annexed Crimea two decades later, in 2014, Western nations said that Russia had violated its commitments to Ukraine, and they made a similar case in 2022, when President Vladimir Putin invaded the entire country. Russia denied that claim, saying the accord had only committed them not to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine.

Speaking to reporters on Air Force One on Wednesday night as Biden flew to Italy for the G7 summit, Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, said that the situation was radically different today, and that the United States and the West had already provided Ukraine with tens of billions of dollars in aid.

The new arrangement with Ukraine is not a treaty, so it does not require U.S. security guarantees the way that mutual defense treaties with Japan, South Korea and the Philippines do. And because it is essentially an executive agreement, Donald Trump, if re-elected, could abandon the deal, as he abandoned the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran in 2018.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.