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Biden: NATO 'would respond' if Russia uses chemical weapons in Ukraine

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President Joe Biden gives a press conference at the end of a Group of Seven leaders meeting at the alliance headquarters in Brussels on Thursday. Photo by Stephanie Lecocq/EPA-EFE
President Joe Biden gives a press conference at the end of a Group of Seven leaders meeting at the alliance headquarters in Brussels on Thursday. Photo by Stephanie Lecocq/EPA-EFE

March 24 (UPI) -- U.S. President Joe Biden said Thursday that NATO would respond if Russia used chemical weapons in its invasion of Ukraine after attending a summit held by the alliance in Brussels.

His remarks came during a news conference held after the meeting, which attempted to increase NATO's defensive capabilities in Eastern Europe to protect countries close to war-scarred Ukraine.

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Asked about potential chemical weapons use during the invasion, Biden said he couldn't talk about military intelligence.

"We would respond" if Russian President Vladimir Putin uses chemical weapons, he said. "The nature of our response would depend on the nature of the use."

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Biden said Putin was "banking on NATO being split."

"NATO has never, never been more united than we are today."

Biden also said Russia be removed from the Group of 20, the world's leading economies.

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Biden also announced Thursday that the United States is leveling new sanctions against more than 400 wealthy Russians, elected officials and defense contractors for the war in Ukraine.

A statement from the White House said the new sanctions are designed to prevent the Russian Central Bank from using international reserves, including gold.

"Our sanctions on Russia are unprecedented -- in no other circumstance have we moved so swiftly and in such a coordinated fashion to impose devastating costs on any other country. The ruble has depreciated substantially and is expected by markets to weaken further. The Moscow Stock Exchange closed for weeks," the White House said in a statement Thursday.

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The Central Bank of Russia has doubled interest rates to 20% and companies are being forced to turn over foreign exchange for rubles to provide the Russian government with hard currency.

During his news conference, Biden said sanctions on Russia will be long-lasting to create sustained pain over time.

"That will stop him," he said.

"Sanctions never deter," he added, seeming to contradict statements previously made by his administration.

Following the summit in Brussels, NATO members and allies formally condemned Moscow, called on Putin to end the fighting immediately and urged China to refrain from aiding the Russian government in any way.

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"Russia's attack on Ukraine threatens global security. Its assault on international norms makes the world less safe. President Putin's escalatory rhetoric is irresponsible and destabilizing," NATO leaders said in a joint statement.

"Russia needs to show it is serious about negotiations by immediately implementing a cease-fire. ... Russia's continuing aggression while discussions are taking place is deplorable.

"We are concerned by recent public comments by [Chinese] officials and call on China to cease amplifying the Kremlin's false narratives, in particular on the war and on NATO, and to promote a peaceful resolution to the conflict."

NATO in the statement said it has "activated defense plans" that include stationing 40,000 troops on the eastern flank and establishing four new multinational battle groups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.

Earlier Thursday, Stoltenberg told reporters that NATO's core mission is to defend allies and pledged to do so by establishing the new battle groups. Member countries, he added, will need to provide more funding for defense.

"We need to do more, and therefore we need to invest more," he said. "There is a new sense of urgency and I expect that the leaders will agree to accelerate the investments in defense to meet the pledge we have made to invest more in defense.

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Thursday's meeting came exactly one month after the start of Russia's war in Ukraine, which officials estimate has killed hundreds of Ukrainian civilians and led 3.6 million to flee to other nations, according to United Nations data.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky virtually addressed the summit asking for more support for his country.

"Ukraine does not have powerful air defense system, we have far less aviation than Russians do," he said. "I ask you to reassess your positions and think about security in Europe and in the whole world. You can give us just 1% of all your airplanes, just 1% of your tanks."

Zelensky previously asked for NATO countries to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine and for his country's membership into the alliance, but didn't repeat those requests Thursday.

After the NATO meeting, Biden attended a Group of Seven summit where leaders declined to propose new sanctions and instead called for fully implementing measures already in place.

"We will continue to cooperate closely, including by engaging other governments on adopting similar restrictive measures to those already imposed by G7 members," a final statement draft said.

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Biden later met with European Council President Charles Michel and attended a summit of the European Council. Michel was re-elected as head of the EC on Thursday by a unanimous vote.

In a joint statement, Biden and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said they are "united in our resolve to defend shared values, including democracy, respect for human rights, global peace and stability, and the rules-based international order.

They will also work together together concerning humanitarian relief for Ukrainians and sanctions targeting Russia, it said.

On Friday, Biden will travel to Poland and meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda.

Scenes from the rubble: Russian forces attack Ukraine capital, Kyiv

Ukrainian service members stand beside a damaged building in a residential area after shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 18. Photo by Vladyslav Musiienko/UPI | License Photo

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