The United States will strengthen its forces in Europe as NATO faces up to the threat from Russia following its invasion of Ukraine. President Joe Biden announced the deployments at the NATO summit in Madrid. Henry Ridgwell reports.
U.S. President Joe Biden thanked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday for dropping his objections to the bids by Sweden and Finland to join NATO, leading the way for the military alliance to expand even closer to Russia.
“I want to particularly thank you for what you did putting together the situation with regard to Finland and Sweden,” Biden told Erdogan during a one-on-one meeting on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Madrid. “You’re doing a great job.”
In response, speaking through an interpreter, Erdogan said that Biden’s “pioneering in this regard is going to be crucial in terms of strengthening NATO for the future, and it’s going to have a very positive contribution to the process between Ukraine and Russia.”
Turkey, Finland and Sweden on Tuesday signed a memorandum deepening their counterterrorism cooperation, addressing Ankara’s concerns that the two Nordic countries are not doing enough to crack down on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union, the U.S. and others.
Finland and Sweden also agreed not to support the Gulenist movement, led by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, which Turkey blames for a failed 2016 coup attempt and other domestic problems.
Helsinki and Stockholm will also end support for the so-called Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG) in Syria, part of the U.S.-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighting against the Islamic State group. Additionally, Sweden agreed to end an arms embargo against Turkey that dated to its 2019 incursion into Syria.
Invitation to join NATO
With Turkey withdrawing its veto, NATO formally invited Finland and Sweden to join the alliance earlier Wednesday.
“It sends a very clear message to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. We are demonstrating that NATO’s doors are open,” Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, characterizing the invitation process as “the quickest in history.”
Helsinki and Stockholm will bring great military capability and strategic outlook to the alliance, said Jim Townsend, a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy, now at the Atlantic Council.
“Both nations — because they were neutral — they had to spend a lot of money and make a lot of effort to be a very professional force because they weren’t in an alliance. They had to depend on themselves,” Townsend told VOA. “It took the wolf being at the door for those nations to come in.”
The two countries applied to join in May, but the process began months earlier during the initial phase of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with Biden reaching out to the leaders to discuss the possibility of joining NATO, a senior U.S. administration official told reporters Tuesday.
Since then, the U.S. has been “painstakingly working to try and help close the gaps between the Turks, the Finns and the Swedes,” the official said. “All the while trying, certainly in public, to have a lower-key approach to this so that it didn’t become about the U.S. or about particular demands on the U.S.,” he said, referring to Ankara’s long-standing request to purchase U.S. F-16 fighter jets.
Biden phone call
The official denied that Ankara made the warplane request a precondition to withdraw its objections. However, he noted that Biden conveyed Tuesday during a phone call to Erdogan his desire to “get this other issue resolved, and then you and I can sit down and really, really talk about significant strategic issues.”
The day after Ankara lifted its veto, the administration announced its support for the potential sale of the fighter jets.
Celeste Wallander, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs at the Pentagon, told reporters that Washington supports Ankara’s effort to modernize its fighter fleet.
“That is a contribution to NATO security and, therefore, American security,” she said.
In 2017, despite American and NATO opposition, Turkey signed a deal to purchase the S-400 Russian missile defense system. In response, Washington issued sanctions and kicked Ankara out of its newest, most advanced F-35 jet program. Since then, Turkey has sought to purchase 40 modernized F-16s, which are older models of the American fighter jets, and modernization kits for another 80 F-16s.
Wallander said any F-16 sales “need to be worked through our contracting processes.” A deal would likely require approval from Congress.
In their meeting, Biden also thanked Erdogan for his “incredible work” to establish humanitarian corridors to enable the export of Ukrainian grain to the rest of the world amid the war.
“We are trying to solve the process with a balancing policy. Our hope is that this balance policy will lead to results and allow us the possibility to get grain to countries that are facing shortages right now through a corridor as soon as possible,” Erdogan said in response.
Turkey has played a central role in negotiations with Kyiv and Russia to increase the amount of grain that can get out of Ukraine. Tens of millions of people around the world are at risk of hunger as the conflict disrupted shipments of grain from Ukraine, one of the world’s leading producers.
Earlier this month, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met his Russian counterpart to discuss unlocking the grain from Black Sea ports but failed to reach an agreement. Hurdles remain, including payment mechanisms and mines placed by both Moscow and Kyiv in the Black Sea.
Turkey has suggested that ships could be guided around sea mines by establishing safe corridors under a U.N. proposal to resume not only Ukrainian grain exports but also Russian food and fertilizer exports, which Moscow says are harmed by sanctions. The U.N. has been “working in close cooperation with the Turkish authorities on this issue,” said U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
VOA’s Henry Ridgwell contributed to this report.
The lone survivor of a team of Islamic State extremists was convicted Wednesday of murder and other charges and sentenced to life in prison without parole in the 2015 bombings and shootings across Paris that killed 130 people in the deadliest peacetime attacks in French history.
The special court also convicted 19 other men involved in the assault following a nine-month trial.
Chief suspect Salah Abdeslam was found guilty of murder and attempted murder in relation to a terrorist enterprise. The court found that his explosives vest malfunctioned, dismissing his argument that he ditched the vest because he decided not to follow through with his attack on the night of Nov. 13, 2015.
Abdeslam, a 32-year-old Belgian with Moroccan roots, was given France’s most severe sentence possible.
Of the defendants besides Abdeslam, 18 were given various terrorism-related convictions, and one was convicted on a lesser fraud charge. They were given punishments ranging from suspended sentences to life in prison.
During the trial, Abdeslam proclaimed his radicalism, wept, apologized to victims and pleaded with judges to forgive his mistakes.
For victims’ families and survivors of the attacks, the trial has been excruciating yet crucial in their quest for justice and closure.
For months, the packed main chamber and 12 overflow rooms in the 13th century Justice Palace heard the harrowing accounts by the victims, along with testimony from Abdeslam. The other defendants are largely accused of helping with logistics or transportation. At least one is accused of a direct role in the deadly March 2016 attacks in Brussels, which also was claimed by the Islamic State group.
The trial was an opportunity for survivors and those mourning loved ones to recount the deeply personal horrors inflicted that night and to listen to details of countless acts of bravery, humanity and compassion among strangers. Some hoped for justice, but most just wanted tell the accused directly that they have been left irreparably scarred, but not broken.
“The assassins, these terrorists, thought they were firing into the crowd, into a mass of people,” said Dominique Kielemoes at the start of the trial in September 2021. Her son bled to death in one of the cafes. Hearing the testimony of victims was “crucial to both their own healing and that of the nation,” Kielemoes said.
“It wasn’t a mass — these were individuals who had a life, who loved, had hopes and expectations,” she said.
France was changed in the wake of the attacks: Authorities declared a state of emergency and armed officers now constantly patrol public spaces. The violence sparked soul-searching among the French and Europeans, since most of the attackers were born and raised in France or Belgium. And they transformed forever the lives of all those who suffered losses or bore witness.
Presiding judge Jean-Louis Peries said at the trial’s outset that it belongs to “international and national events of this century. ” France emerged from the state of emergency in 2017, after incorporating many of the harshest measures into law.
Fourteen of the defendants have been in court, including Abdeslam, the only survivor of the 10-member attacking team that terrorized Paris that Friday night. All but one of the six absent men are presumed to have been killed in Syria or Iraq; the other is in prison in Turkey.
Most of the suspects are accused of helping create false identities, transporting the attackers back to Europe from Syria or providing them with money, phones, explosives or weapons.
Abdeslam was the only defendant tried on several counts of murder and kidnapping as a member of a terrorist organization.
The sentence sought for Abdeslam of life in prison without parole has only been pronounced four times in France — for crimes related to rape and murder of minors.
Prosecutors are seeking life sentences for nine other defendants. The remaining suspects were tried on lesser terrorism charges and face sentences ranging from five to 30 years.
In closing arguments, prosecutors stressed that all 20 defendants, who had fanned out around the French capital, armed with semi-automatic rifles and explosives-packed vests to mount parallel attacks, are members of the Islamic State extremist group responsible for the massacres.
“Not everyone is a jihadi, but all of those you are judging accepted to take part in a terrorist group, either by conviction, cowardliness or greed,” prosecutor Nicolas Braconnay told the court this month.
Some defendants, including Abdeslam, said innocent civilians were targeted because of France’s policies in the Middle East and hundreds of civilian deaths in Western airstrikes in Islamic State-controlled areas of Syria and Iraq.
During his testimony, former President François Hollande dismissed claims that his government was at fault.
The Islamic State, “this pseudo-state, declared war with the weapons of war,” Hollande said. The Paris attackers did not terrorize, shoot, kill, maim and traumatize civilians because of religion, he said, adding it was “fanaticism and barbarism.”
During closing arguments Monday, Abdelslam’s lawyer Olivia Ronen told a panel of judges that her client is the only one in the group of attackers who didn’t set off explosives to kill others that night. He can’t be convicted for murder, she argued.
“If a life sentence without hope for ever experiencing freedom again is pronounced, I fear we have lost a sense of proportion,” Ronan said. She emphasized through the trial that she is “not providing legitimacy to the attacks” by defending her client in court.
Abdeslam apologized to the victims at his final court appearance Monday, saying his remorse and sorrow is heartfelt and sincere. Listening to victims’ accounts of “so much suffering” changed him, he said.
“I have made mistakes, it’s true, but I am not a murderer, I am not a killer,” he said.
NATO heads of state and government meeting in Madrid on Wednesday approved a new Strategic Concept for the alliance, naming “Russia’s aggression,” “systemic challenges posed by the People’s Republic of China” and the “deepening strategic partnership” between the two countries as its main priorities.
In this document, the Western military alliance that was formed after the Second World War defined Russia as the “most significant and direct threat” and for the first time addressed challenges that Beijing poses toward NATO’s security, interests and values.
At the summit that runs until Thursday, the alliance agreed to boost support for Ukraine as it defends itself from the Russian invasion, now in its fifth month. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters earlier this week that NATO will boost the number of troops on high alert by more than sevenfold to more than 300,000 — amid what he characterized as “the most serious security crisis” since the Second World War.
On Wednesday, President Joe Biden announced the United States is bolstering its military presence in Europe, including the deployment of additional naval destroyers in Spain and positioning more troops elsewhere, in response to “changed security environment” and to strengthen “collective security.”
Biden said the U.S. would establish a permanent headquarters for the U.S. 5th Army Corps in Poland, add a rotational brigade of 3,000 troops and 2,000 other personnel to be headquartered in Romania, as well as send two additional squadrons of F-35 fighter jets to Britain.
“Earlier this year, we surged 20,000 additional U.S. forces to Europe to bolster our lines in response to Russia’s aggressive move, bringing our force total in Europe to 100,000,” he said, adding the U.S. will continue to adjust its defense posture “based on the threat in close consultation with our allies.”
Also Wednesday, in a virtual address to NATO, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his country needs more advanced weapons and approximately $5 billion per month to defend itself.
“This is not a war being waged by Russia against only Ukraine. This is a war for the right to dictate conditions in Europe—for what the future world order will be like,” Zelenskiyy told summit leaders.
NATO allies plan to continue to give military and types of support to Ukraine indefinitely, said Charly Salonius-Pasternak, a security analyst at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.
“What I’ve heard collectively from everyone is that insight of how important it is that Russia does not win, the idea being that if Russia learns the lesson that widespread use of military force gains it something, Europe will not be stable or safe in the future, and therefore Russia must not win, Ukraine must win,” he told VOA.
NATO’s Strategic Concept’s language suggests a significant shift in its unity and sense of urgency on great power rivalry, said Stacie Goddard, professor of political science at Wellesley College. She underscored the alliance’s warning of a deepening Russia-China partnership as a challenge to the existing order.
“To be sure, these are only words, but both the novelty and the clarity of the rhetoric is striking,” she told VOA.
Beijing is not backing Russia’s war in Ukraine militarily, but Chinese leader Xi Jinping has stated support for Moscow over “sovereignty and security” issues. The country continues to purchase massive amounts of Russian oil, gas and coal.
“This is seen as extremely threatening, not only to the United States, but to Europe as well,” said Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Woodrow Wilson Center, to VOA.
U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Tuesday that allies have had “growing concerns about China’s unfair trade practices, use of forced labor, theft of intellectual property and their bullying and coercive activities, not just in the Indo-Pacific, but around the world.”
NATO’s Strategic Concept is an assessment of security challenges and guides the alliance’s political and military activities. The last one was adopted at the NATO Lisbon Summit in 2010, and ironically included the words: “NATO poses no threat to Russia. On the contrary: we want to see a true strategic partnership between NATO and Russia.”
Sweden and Finland
Biden praised Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who on Tuesday dropped his objections to bids from Sweden and Finland bids to join the alliance.
“I want to particularly thank you for what you did putting together the situation with regard to Finland and Sweden, and all the incredible work you’re doing to try to get the grain out of Ukraine,” Biden told Erdoğan during a one-on-one meeting on the sidelines of the summit.
With Ankara lifting its veto of NATO membership for Finland and Sweden, the administration threw its support behind the potential sale of U.S. F-16 fighter jets to Turkey.
As NATO is set to expand membership, the summit also focused on reinforcing partnerships with non-NATO countries. Participating in the summit are leaders from Australia, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
“President Putin has not succeeded in closing NATO’s door,” Stoltenberg said. “He’s getting the opposite of what he wants. He wants less NATO. President Putin is getting more NATO by Sweden and Finland joining our alliance.”
NATO’s Strategic Concept also states that climate change is “a defining challenge of our time.”
VOA’s Chris Hannas and Henry Ridgwell in Madrid contributed to this story.
NATO leaders are gathering in Madrid, Spain, for a summit that will include discussion of support for Ukraine and how the alliance will adapt to face current and future challenges.
The leaders are expected to agree to boost support for Ukraine as it defends itself from a Russian invasion.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters the gathering will be a “historic and transformative summit for our alliance,” adding that it comes amid “the most serious security crisis we have faced since the second world war.”
Russia’s attack is also influencing NATO’s own long-term plans, with a new strategic concept that includes what the alliance has called its “changed security environment.” The guiding agreement will also address other challenges, including China.
In the short term, NATO is strengthening its readiness to respond to outside threats, including boosting the number of troops under direct NATO command and pre-positioning more heavy weapons and logistical resources.
As NATO members consider the applications for Sweden and Finland to join the alliance, the summit is also set to include talks about reinforcing partnerships with non-NATO countries. Participating in the summit are leaders from Australia, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
Other areas of discussion include terrorism, cyberattacks and climate change.
A German court on Tuesday handed a five-year jail sentence to a 101-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard, the oldest person to go on trial for complicity in war crimes during the Holocaust.
Josef Schuetz was found guilty of being an accessory to murder in at least 3,500 cases while working as a prison guard at the Sachsenhausen camp in Oranienburg, north of Berlin, from 1942 to 1945.
Given his age, Schuetz is highly unlikely to be put behind bars.
The pensioner, who now lives in Brandenburg state, had pleaded innocent, saying he did “absolutely nothing” and had not even worked at the camp.
“I don’t know why I am here,” he said at the close of his trial Monday.
But presiding judge Udo Lechtermann said he was convinced Schuetz had worked at Sachsenhausen and had “supported” the atrocities committed there.
“For three years, you watched prisoners being tortured and killed before your eyes,” Lechtermann said.
“Due to your position on the watchtower of the concentration camp, you constantly had the smoke of the crematorium in your nose,” he said. “Anyone who tried to escape from the camp was shot. So every guard was actively involved in these murders.”
More than 200,000 people, including Jews, Roma, gays and regime opponents, were detained at the Sachsenhausen camp from 1936 to 1945.
Tens of thousands of inmates died from forced labor, murder, medical experiments, hunger or disease before the camp was liberated by Soviet troops, according to the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum.
Schuetz, who was 21 when he began working at the camp, remained blank-faced as the court announced his sentence.
“I am ready,” said Sc
huetz when he, dressed in a gray shirt and striped trousers, entered the courtroom in a wheelchair.
Schuetz was not detained during the trial, which began in 2021 but was postponed several times because of his health.
His lawyer, Stefan Waterkamp, told AFP he would appeal, meaning the sentence will not be enforced until 2023 at the earliest.
Thomas Walther, the lawyer who represented 11 of the 16 civil parties in the trial, said the sentencing had met their expectations and “justice has been served.”
But Antoine Grumbach, 80, whose father died in Sachsenhausen, said he could “never forgive” Schuetz as “any human being facing atrocities has a duty to oppose them.”
During the trial, Schuetz had made several inconsistent statements about his past, complaining that his head was getting “mixed up.”
At one point, the centenarian said he had worked as an agricultural laborer in Germany for most of World War II, a claim contradicted by several historical documents bearing his name, date and place of birth.
‘Warning to perpetrators’
After the war, Schuetz was transferred to a prison camp in Russia before returning to Germany, where he worked as a farmer and a locksmith.
More than seven decades after World War II, German prosecutors are racing to bring the last surviving Nazi perpetrators to justice.
The 2011 conviction of former guard John Demjanjuk on the basis that he served as part of Hitler’s killing machine, set a legal precedent and paved the way for several of these justice cases.
Since then, courts have handed down several guilty verdicts on those grounds rather than for murders or atrocities directly linked to the individual accused.
Among those brought to late justice were Oskar Groening, an accountant at Auschwitz, and Reinhold Hanning, a former SS guard at Auschwitz.
Both were convicted at the age of 94 of complicity in mass murder but died before they could be imprisoned.
However, Schuetz’s five-year sentence is the longest handed to a defendant in such a case.
Guillaume Mouralis, a research professor at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research, told AFP the verdict was “a warning to the perpetrators of mass crimes: whatever their level of responsibility, there is still legal liability.”
NATO ally Turkey lifted its veto over Finland and Sweden’s bid to join the Western alliance on Tuesday after the three nations agreed to protect each other’s security, ending a weeks-long drama that tested allied unity against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The breakthrough came after four hours of talks just before a NATO summit began in Madrid, averting an embarrassing impasse at the gathering of 30 leaders that aims to show resolve against Russia, now seen by the U.S.-led alliance as a direct security threat rather than a possible adversary.
It means Helsinki and Stockholm can proceed with their application to join the nuclear-armed alliance, cementing what is set to be the biggest shift in European security in decades, as the two, long neutral Nordic countries seek NATO protection.
“Our foreign ministers signed a trilateral memorandum which confirms that Turkey will … support the invitation of Finland and Sweden to become members of NATO,” Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said in a statement.
“The concrete steps of our accession to NATO will be agreed by the NATO allies during the next two days, but that decision is now imminent,” Niinisto said.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Turkey’s presidency confirmed the accord in separate statements, after talks between the NATO chief, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Niinisto.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted, “Fantastic news as we kick off the NATO summit. Sweden and Finland’s membership will make our brilliant alliance stronger and safer.”
Stoltenberg said NATO’s 30 leaders would now invite Finland, which shares a 1,300 km border with Russia, and Sweden to join NATO, and that they would become official “invitees.”
“The door is open. The joining of Finland and Sweden into NATO will take place,” Stoltenberg said.
However, even with a formal invitation granted, NATO’s 30 allied parliaments must ratify the decision by leaders, a process that could take up to a year.
Terms of the deal
Turkey’s main demands, which came as a surprise to NATO allies in May, were for the Nordic countries to stop supporting Kurdish militant groups present on their territory and to lift their bans on some sales of arms to Turkey.
Stoltenberg said the terms of the deal involved Sweden intensifying work on Turkish extradition requests of suspected militants and amending Swedish and Finnish law to toughen their approach to them.
Stoltenberg said Sweden and Finland would lift their restrictions on selling weapons to Turkey.
Turkey has raised serious concerns that Sweden has been harboring what it says are militants from the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984. Stockholm denies the accusation.
The Turkish presidency statement said the four-way agreement reached on Tuesday meant “full cooperation with Turkey in the fight against the PKK and its affiliates.”
It also said Sweden and Finland were “demonstrating solidarity with Turkey in the fight against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.”
U.S. President Joe Biden, who arrived in Madrid before a dinner with his fellow NATO leaders, did not directly address the issue in his public comments with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and King Felipe of Spain.
But he stressed the unity of the alliance, saying NATO was “as galvanized as I believe it’s ever been.”
Biden is to have a meeting with Erdogan during the NATO summit. Erdogan said before leaving for Madrid that he would push Biden on an F-16 fighter jet purchase.
He said he would discuss with Biden the issue of Ankara’s procurement of S-400 air defense systems from Russia which led to U.S. sanctions as well as modernization kits from Washington and other bilateral issues.
The resolution of the deadlock marked a triumph for intense diplomacy as NATO allies try to seal the Nordic accession in record time as a way of solidifying their response to Russia — particularly in the Baltic Sea, where Finnish and Swedish membership would give the alliance military superiority.
In the wider Nordic region, Norway, Denmark and the three Baltic states are already NATO members. Russia’s war in Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special military operation,” helped overturn decades of Swedish opposition to joining NATO.
President Joe Biden’s administration added five companies in China to a trade blacklist on Tuesday for allegedly supporting Russia’s military and defense industrial base, flexing its muscle to enforce sanctions against Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.
The Commerce Department, which oversees the trade blacklist, said the targeted companies had supplied items to Russian “entities of concern” before the February 24 invasion, adding that they “continue to contract to supply Russian entity listed and sanctioned parties.”
The agency also added an additional 31 entities to the blacklist from countries including Russia, UAE, Lithuania, Pakistan, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Uzbekistan and Vietnam, according to the Federal Register entry. However, of the 36 total companies added, 25 had China-based operations.
“Today’s action sends a powerful message to entities and individuals across the globe that if they seek to support Russia, the United States will cut them off as well,” Undersecretary of Commerce for Industry and Security Alan Estevez said in a statement.
The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Three of the companies in China accused of aiding the Russian military, Connec Electronic Ltd., Hong Kong-based World Jetta, and Logistics Limited, could not be reached for comment. The other two, King Pai Technology Co., Ltd and Winninc Electronic did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Hong Kong is considered part of China for purposes of U.S. export controls since Beijing’s crackdown on the city’s autonomy.
Blacklisting of firms means their U.S. suppliers need a Commerce Department license before they can ship to them.
The United States has set out with allies to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for the invasion, which Moscow calls a “special operation,” by sanctioning a raft of Russian companies and oligarchs and adding others to a trade blacklist.
While U.S. officials had previously said that China was generally complying with the restrictions, Washington has vowed to closely monitor compliance and rigorously enforce the regulations.
“We will not hesitate to act, regardless of where a party is located, if they are violating U.S. law,” Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration Thea Rozman Kendler said in the same statement.