By ARITZ PARRA and CIARÁN GILES – Associated Press
MADRID (AP) — Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said the NATO summit in Madrid this week was aimed at showcasing the united front of Western allies in defense of democratic values in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while increasing the block’s deterrent capabilities.
In an interview with The Associated Press a day before the summit began on Tuesday, he reaffirmed that the alliance would not tolerate any territorial aggression against its members.
“We must send a message of deterrence, that we are ready to defend every inch of Allied territory,” Sánchez said.
Russian President Vladimir “Putin is not just invading Ukraine. What he wants is to destabilize and weaken Europe’s security and prosperity.
Speaking at the palace which houses the prime minister’s office and residence in Madrid, Sánchez said the main objective of the NATO summit was to send “a message of unity consistent with democracy, security , to the international order, based on rules that, unfortunately, Putin and the Russian Federation shattered with the invasion of Ukraine.
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A key issue will be strengthening NATO’s military presence on its eastern flank, as well as satisfying Spain’s request not to ignore emerging threats on the southern fringe of the alliance, particularly from areas unstable African regions such as the Sahel.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday the alliance would increase the size of its rapid reaction force to 300,000 troops. The force currently numbers around 40,000 soldiers.
Stoltenberg also said the allies will discuss how to respond to the growing influence of Russia and China in NATO’s “southern neighborhood”.
The Madrid summit, which opens with a state dinner on Tuesday followed by talks on Wednesday, was announced a year ago with eyes set on a new “Strategic Concept”, the renewal of vows once a decade by NATO members which describes the threats to the alliance and its response.
But after Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, a key issue became Finland and Sweden ending their position of non-alignment and neutrality in applying for NATO membership, which greatly irritated Russia.
NATO’s proclaimed unity is being tested on the issue, as Turkey, which has the alliance’s second-largest army after the United States, seeks guarantees from Finland and Sweden regarding Kurdish groups that Ankara considers terrorists.
The leaders of the three countries announced that they would hold a special meeting on Tuesday in Madrid.
“The incorporation of Finland and Sweden, before or after, will be made possible,” Sánchez told the AP. “We would like it to be at the Madrid summit, I’m not denying that but obviously if it’s not the talks will continue.”
Sánchez, a socialist politician who led Spain’s first national coalition government since the start of 2020, faces criticism from Unidas Podemos (United We Can), a far-left party that holds five of the 22 seats of the Cabinet, for his support for NATO. military commitment to Ukraine.
Some members of United We Can have said they will not support Spain’s national budget next year if it increases military spending as Spaniards grapple with runaway inflation and other economic difficulties.
Without specifying a timetable, Sánchez said Spain had pledged to increase its defense budget by just over 1% of GDP – the second-lowest share of all European NATO members – in 2% committed by all allies “over the next decade”.
Two of the most watched topics at the summit will be Russia and China in terms of NATO’s new strategic roadmap for the next 10 years.
Sánchez said the “Strategic Concept”, which was last updated in Lisbon in 2010, will see Russia move from being a NATO partner to “the main security threat to the Atlantic Alliance “.
Regarding China, Sánchez said that Beijing “represents a challenge that also offers opportunities for collaboration”, indicating that Spain does not support classifying Beijing’s assertion as a threat, as some allies might wish.
Pressured by the global disruption the war in Ukraine is unleashing on energy and food supplies and the prospect of a severe recession, some European leaders have begun to call for a negotiated end to the war, even if that means territorial sacrifices of from Ukraine.
But Sánchez avoided supporting those calls.
“It’s a decision Ukraine has to make, not us,” he said.
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