Biden to Attend ‘Extraordinary’ NATO Summit in Brussels

U.S. President Joe Biden will travel next week to Brussels, where he will join an “extraordinary” NATO summit set to take place on March 24 — one month after Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced Biden’s travel plans hours after NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called for the meeting, tweeting that alliance members “will address Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, our strong support for Ukraine, and further strengthening NATO’s deterrence & defense.”

Russian shelling hit Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, early Tuesday, including one that struck an apartment building, killing four people and starting a fire that sparked a frenzied rescue effort, officials said. Kyiv Mayor Vitaly Klitschko announced a 35-hour curfew for the city beginning Tuesday night.

Hours earlier, Fox News reported that video journalist Pierre Zakrzewski was killed when the vehicle in which he was traveling was struck by incoming fire on the outskirts of Kyiv.

Despite Russia’s attacks on Kyiv, three European leaders headed to the capital as Russian forces bombarded the area and other cities nearly three weeks into the invasion.

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said he was traveling to Kyiv on Tuesday along with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa to represent the European Council in a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.

“The purpose of the visit is to confirm the unequivocal support of the entire European Union for the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine,” Fiala said. “The aim of this visit is also to present a broad package of support for the Ukraine and Ukrainians.”

 

“In such critical times for the world, it is our duty to be where history is forged,” Morawiecki wrote on Facebook. “Because it’s not about us, but about the future of our children who deserve to live in a world free from tyranny.”

The European Union announced a new round of sanctions against Russia, including bans on transactions with certain state-owned companies or new investments in Russia’s energy sector, as well as tighter trade restrictions on iron, steel and luxury goods.

There are also sanctions targeting “key oligarchs, lobbyist and propagandists pushing the Kremlin’s narrative on the situation in Ukraine, as well as key companies in the aviation, military and dual use, shipbuilding and machine-building sectors.”

Much of the international response has been focused on punishing Russia through economic sanctions. Japan Tuesday announced new asset freezes for 17 Russians, including 11 members of the Russian parliament, billionaire Viktor Vekselberg and family members of banker Yuri Kovalchuk.

Russia on Tuesday announced that Biden and a dozen other senior officials have been banned from entering the country, in response to the sanctions from Western countries.

“We’ve made President Putin’s war of choice a strategic failure,” Psaki said Tuesday. “The unprecedented costs we’ve imposed with allies and partners have reversed 30 years of economic progress, something President Putin himself pushed for.”

Negotiators from Russia and Ukraine began more talks Tuesday following a meeting on Monday, held by video rather than in person in neighboring Belarus like previous sessions, which yielded no major signs of a breakthrough.

But Zelenskyy suggested a compromise on Tuesday, saying in a video message that Kyiv was ready to accept security guarantees that fall short of its goal to join NATO.

“If we cannot enter through open doors, then we must cooperate with the associations with which we can, which will help us, protect us … and have separate guarantees,” Zelenskyy said.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said it was premature to predict whether the peace talks will lead to progress.

“The work is difficult, and in the current situation, the very fact that (the talks) are continuing is probably positive,” Peskov said.

Psaki told reporters the United States supports the negotiations, but that it is looking for signs that Russia is willing to pair talks with a pullback in violence.

“Our view continues to be that despite words that are said in these talks or coming out of these talks, diplomacy requires engaging in good faith to de-escalate,” Psaki said Monday.

“And what we’re really looking for is evidence of that. And we’re not seeing any evidence, at this point, that President Putin is doing anything to stop the onslaught or de-escalate.”

Meanwhile, Biden Tuesday signed an appropriations package that includes $13.6 billion for emergency military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine. That will be followed Wednesday by an address to Congress by Zelenskyy, who has appealed for international help, including a no-fly zone over Ukraine, that the Biden administration has ruled out.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said the government hoped to be able to open nine humanitarian corridors Tuesday to evacuate civilians and deliver aid to those in areas besieged by Russian forces, including the southern city of Mariupol where Russian shelling prevented deliveries on Monday.

In a rare positive development Monday, Ukrainian officials in Mariupol said a convoy of civilian cars was able to leave after many previous attempts to evacuate civilians collapsed. Officials said 160 cars left in the first two hours that the corridor was open. On Tuesday, the city council said 2,000 civilian cars had left, but it was not immediately clear if the 160 cars that left on Monday were included in the tally.

Also Tuesday, Ukraine’s parliament voted to extend martial law for another month until April 24, barring men between 18 and 60 from leaving the country so they can be called to join the military.

The United Nations said Tuesday the number of people who have fled Ukraine since the invasion began had reached 3 million.

Eastern European chief Myroslava Gongadze, White House correspondent Anita Powell, senior diplomatic correspondent Cindy Saine, national security correspondent Jeff Seldin, U.N. correspondent Margaret Besheer, State Department correspondent Nike Ching, and Mandarin service reporters Lin Yang and Si Yang contributed to this report.

Some information also came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.