Portraying the world 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, capping a European trip showing 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. In a press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Mr. Biden described the current moment as a “tipping 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 is important to forge a better future? Will we stand together, will we stand with each other? Will we will remain committed to our course?” Mr. Biden said.
Finland’s entry into NATO is a strong rebuke to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who cited the eastward expansion of the mutual defense alliance 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 will defend every inch of NATO territory and that includes Finland,” he said.
Ukraine also aims to join NATO. At the summit in Vilnius, NATO member countries made their strongest promises yet that Ukraine would become a member, although they did not provide a framework for when and how that would happen.
For the first time, Mr. Biden had some advice to offer Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, Mr. Putin’s former butler and the head of the Wagner forces that led the insurgency against the Russian military. “If I were him, I would watch what he ate,” he said.
Asked by a reporter about his administration’s efforts to free Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter whom the United States declared “wrongfully detained,” Mr. Biden said he was serious about negotiating a prisoner exchange.
“I am serious about doing everything I can to free Americans who are being held illegally in Russia — or anywhere else, for that matter,” he said. “And that process is underway.”
Last week, the US confirmed that it was in talks with Russia about a possible exchange, but warned that the discussions had not yet produced “a clear path to a resolution”. This came after Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov said the two countries were in contact about the possibility of an exchange.
Mr Biden spoke 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 the nation’s hopes for a speedy accession. The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, later explained that the necessary vote in the Turkish parliament is unlikely to take place before October. He also said Sweden still had to take steps to win a majority of lawmakers, suggesting there could be other obstacles before the deal is done.
Finland and Sweden jointly applied to join the military alliance last year, abandoning their long-standing policies of military non-alignment before Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Turkey continued the process, however, arguing that Sweden hosts Kurdish extremists 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.