US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to discuss support for Ukraine, as well as Finland’s and Sweden’s efforts to join the alliance. He also addressed the diplomatic tensions that ensued after an alleged Chinese surveillance balloon was spotted over the United States last week.
“Last week, Beijing violated international law and US sovereignty with the presence of a Chinese surveillance balloon in US airspace,” Blinken told reporters on Wednesday at a news conference with Stoltenberg.
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China, meanwhile, has said the balloon was a “civilian” craft collecting weather data and that it was blown off course.
Blinken said the US would share findings about the balloon, which was shot down off the east coast of the US over the weekend, with US Congress and allies around the world. He added that efforts by the US Navy were ongoing to recover the balloon fragments.
“We’re analysing them to learn more about the [Chinese] surveillance program,” he said, adding that China presented “systemic and tactical challenges” to the NATO alliance.
The meeting comes as the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine approaches. Western governments have responded to the conflict with a significant influx of military assistance for Ukraine and efforts to isolate Russia on the world stage.
“Putin launched his illegal war of aggression almost a year ago,” said Stoltenberg. “Since then, NATO allies have provided unprecedented support for Ukraine. Around $120bn in military, humanitarian and financial assistance.”
Blinken said the US has sent Ukraine nearly $30bn in military aid since the conflict began last February, not including humanitarian and economic aid.
Russia’s invasion has prompted several European nations, including Sweden and Finland, to push for membership in NATO, a mutual defence alliance that traces its origins to the Cold War.
Blinken told reporters the US was “very focused” on bringing Sweden and Finland into NATO, calling the two countries “strong democracies” and “trusted partners”.
Those efforts have run into objections from NATO members Turkey and Hungary. Unanimous approval is required among the alliance’s 30 members to secure membership for new countries.
Russia has long been critical of NATO expansion. Its defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, also warned earlier this week that Western shipments of military hardware to Ukraine risked spurring an “unpredictable” escalation, “dragging NATO countries into the conflict”.
At Wednesday’s news conference, Stoltenberg said NATO members should continue to boost their military spending, citing the challenges of a “more dangerous and more competitive world”.
In December 2022, the US Congress passed a spending package that increased US military spending, already the highest in the world, by an additional 10 percent, bringing the total to an enormous $858bn.