President Joe Biden and Nordic leaders came together Thursday to cap off a critical European trip for a summit that carried heavy symbolism both at home and abroad about the president’s vision of America’s role in the world.
The leaders of Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland highlighted cooperation with the US in the same site where former President Donald Trump met one-on-one for two hours with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin exactly five years ago this week. That summit saw the then-US president siding with his Russian counterpart over whether the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 election in a stunning rebuke of US intelligence that caused concern both in Washington and in allied capitals around the world.
Five years later, Biden portrayed a vastly different tone, stressing unity among NATO alliance as he recapped the trip.
“At this inflection point, the world is watching to see: will we do the hard work that matters to forge a better future? Will we stand together?… Will we stay committed to our course?” he said during a news conference. “This week, Finland and the United States and our allies and partners said a resounding, loud yes. Yes, we’ll step up. Yes, we’ll stand together. And yes, we’ll keep working toward a stronger, safer, and more secure world.”
But signs of Trump’s lingering effect on American relationships with NATO allies were evident in a question from a Finnish reporter who asked Biden if Finland could be confident in the US’ commitment to the alliance.
“There’s overwhelming support from the American people, there’s overwhelming support from the members of Congress – both House and Senate – both parties, notwithstanding the fact there’s some extreme elements of one party. We will stand together,” Biden said.
Biden added that the American people “know” that US security “rests in the unanimity among European and transatlantic partner.”
“No one can guarantee the future. But this is the best bet anyone could make,” he said.
Flanked by allies old and new, he reflected on the addition of Finland and expected addition of Sweden to the NATO alliance amid Putin’s war in Ukraine, saying the decision “was a reminder that the nations around the table not only share a common history, we share common challenges, and I would add, presumptuously, common values.”
‘Putin has lost this war’
Thursday’s meeting marked the third such summit and the first of the Biden administration. It comes on the heels of a major win for Biden in Vilnius, Lithuania, after Turkey dropped its objections to Sweden’s accession to NATO earlier this week, but also provides the leaders a forum to discuss a range of other pressing issues.
The leaders took a victory lap at the meeting, highlighting momentum after Finland joined NATO and Sweden is set to join the alliance, providing a boost and strong display of unity as Ukraine’s counteroffensive continues. The historic announcement on the eve of the NATO summit represented a stunning about-face from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who stood in the path of Sweden joining NATO for more than a year over a multitude of concerns.
During the news conference, Biden said the alliance’s strength and support of Ukraine has led him to believe that Russia cannot prevail.
“Putin has already lost the war. Putin has a real problem. How does he move from here? What does he do?” Biden said. “What agreement is ultimately reached depends upon Putin, and what he decides to do. But there is no possibility of him winning the war in Ukraine. He’s already lost that war.”
He predicted that the war will not go on “for years,” saying Russia cannot “maintain the war forever … in terms of resources and capacity” and that Putin will ultimately decide “it’s not in the interest of Russia” to continue.
“My hope is, and my expectation is you’ll see that Ukraine makes some pretty significant progress on their offensive and that it generates a negotiated settlement somewhere along the line,” he said.
Biden’s confidence during the news conference was bolstered by the seemingly impending admission of Sweden to NATO after a meeting in Vilnius earlier this week.
The Biden administration led a full-court press in the days leading up to the summit, capping months of behind-the-scenes diplomacy to get Turkey to move ahead with Sweden’s accession. Recalling a conversation with Niinistö as the Finnish leader prepared to seek NATO membership, Biden said, “It took me about three seconds to say yes,” pointing to the “fastest ratification in modern history” for a new NATO member. Finland became the 31st member of the alliance in April.
“I’ve been doing this a long time. I don’t think NATO’s ever been stronger,” Biden said during a meeting with President Sauli Niinistö. “I think – it’s a different era. The nature of our relationship, bringing along Sweden as well, makes a gigantic difference.”
Among the other issues up for discussion: Arctic security. There is a presence from both China and Russia in the Arctic, an area that’s becoming more accessible due to climate change.
Amid more than 500 days of war in Ukraine, Russia has continued to expand its military bases in the Arctic region, satellite images obtained by CNN months ago showing continued progress fortifying and expanding radar bases and runways in the area.
China is also scaling up its presence in the region.
The US, an Arctic nation itself, is taking its own measures to bolster its engagement in the region.
They also discussed areas of cooperation on technology, including 5G and artificial intelligence technology. Climate engagement and clean energy were also key topics during the Helsinki visit.
CNN’s Donald Judd and Allie Malloy contributed to this report.