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U.S. to sign 10-year pact with Ukraine

ERIN SCHAFF/THE NEW YORK TIMES
                                President Joe Biden and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine hold a joint news conference during the annual Group of 7 summit, in Savelletri, Italy, today. Biden here signed a 10-year security agreement with Zelenskyy designed to be a bridge to Ukraine’s membership in NATO.
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ERIN SCHAFF/THE NEW YORK TIMES

President Joe Biden and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine hold a joint news conference during the annual Group of 7 summit, in Savelletri, Italy, today. Biden here signed a 10-year security agreement with Zelenskyy designed to be a bridge to Ukraine’s membership in NATO.

President Joe Biden will sign a 10-year security agreement with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine today, an effort to signal a long-term U.S. commitment to the country’s future as an independent and sovereign state, an administration official said. But the accord could easily be upended by the coming U.S. presidential election.

The deal — whose final details were expected to be announced later today — will outline a long-term effort to train and equip Ukraine’s forces, promising to provide more modern weapons and help the Ukrainians build their own self-sustaining military industry that is capable of producing its own arms, U.S. officials said.

At the Group of 7 summit in Italy on today, Biden and Zelenskyy “will sign a bilateral security agreement making clear our support will last long into the future and pledging continued cooperation, particularly in the defense and security space,” the administration official, Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, told reporters en route to the summit.

The accord is essentially an executive agreement between two presidents.

It 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 would carry 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 only 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 is underway — might compel the U.S. to send forces if the country was reinvaded by Russia. That is one reason Biden has resisted.

While Zelenskyy is expected to embrace the agreement at a news conference with Biden today, the Ukrainians are skeptical of these accords. Without congressional funding, the support is largely rhetorical.

Ukrainian officials often talk about the emptiness of 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 on its 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 Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded the entire country. The Russians 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, Sullivan 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, if reelected, Donald Trump could abandon the deal, as he abandoned the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran in 2018.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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