Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko expects Russia’s role in the conflict in his country to be a priority when US President Donald J. Trump meets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on July 16.

Poroshenko said that meeting, the first summit between Trump and Putin, could go either way, but trusted that “Ukraine would be among a top priority” for Trump.

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US President Donald J. Trump on July 12 reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to NATO after declaring that allies had agreed to his demands to spend more on defense. This affirmation came hours after the US president chastised allies for not spending enough on defense and even threated to pull the United States out of the Alliance.

“The United States was not being treated fairly, but now we are,” Trump said at a news conference in Brussels after NATO leaders held an emergency meeting to address the US president’s complaints that allies are not spending enough on defense.

“Yesterday I let them know that I was extremely unhappy with what was happening and they have substantially upped their commitment,” Trump said, “And now we're very happy and have a very, very powerful, very, very strong NATO, much stronger than it was two days ago.”

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The NATO Summit in Brussels on July 11 and 12 was dominated by dramatic debates over burden sharing and uncertainty about the United States’ continued commitment to the Alliance. Lost in this shuffle, however, are the tangible actions NATO leaders endorsed after their meetings.

Here are the highlights based on the NATO communiqué signed on July 11:

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In Brussels, where US President Donald J. Trump has castigated allies and cast doubt about the US commitment to NATO, two US senators—one a Republican and the other a Democrat—speaking at the NATO Engages event co-hosted by the Atlantic Council on July 12 expressed their full-throated support for the Alliance.

“Congress has your backs,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), co-chair of the Senate NATO Observer Group and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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NATO and the international community must focus on more than just military strength when discussing security, Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir said in Brussels on July 12 at the NATO Engages event co-hosted by the Atlantic Council.

“I personally think this is the view of the future,” she said. “I think we need to look at security holistically. I think we want to prevent conflict, not just stepping in when conflict has happened.”

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Managing a growing rift within NATO

US President Donald J. Trump traveled to Europe this week with his rhetorical guns loaded, taking aim at NATO allies for failing to adequately pay for their own defense. The primary target of Trump’s ire is German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Despite positive trajectories in both German and NATO allies’ defense spending over the past two years, which allies promised to increase to 2 percent of GDP by 2024, Trump is not looking to take a “victory lap” in Brussels and take credit for positive momentum in NATO defense spending.

Instead, Trump will sharply accelerate American calls to end European “free-riding” to a new crisis point, directly linking U.S. political and security commitments in Europe with European willingness to raise defense spending, turning a security partnership into a transactional relationship. Trump’s rhetoric and actions in the following months has the potential to do more damage to the Alliance than any previous US president, more than even Russian President Vladimir Putin could have conducted or dreamed of.   

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At a time where there are so many doubts about NATO at the political level, the paradox is that the Alliance on July 11 came out with a communique—agreed to by all member states—that is “the most substantive… the most complete, the most consensual,” notes Jamie Shea, NATO’s outgoing deputy assistant secretary general for emerging security challenges.

Many of those doubts about the Alliance have been raised by US President Donald J. Trump, who has expressed displeasure with allies whom he believes are not pulling their weight.

Shea has some advice for Trump: he should read the Alliance’s communique. “If I am President Trump I would think, ‘My God! This is music to my ears. It really does push the Alliance in a direction of being useful to me on all of my foreign policy initiatives,’” he said.

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The opening day of NATO Engages: The Brussels Summit Dialogue was marked by passionate endorsements of the transatlantic military alliance that has been credited with giving the West its longest period of peace without a major power conflict in centuries.

It also produced an attempt by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to ease the Alliance’s relationship with its largest member—the United States.

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Zoran Zaev, the prime minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), celebrated his country’s potential NATO membership in Brussels on July 11 just minutes after it was announced that the bloc would invite FYROM to begin accession talks.

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Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz, and German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen stressed the importance of unity in the Alliance during a panel discussion in Brussels on July 11. Although each of the ministers implored the Alliance to find common ground on the challenges facing the bloc, divergent views on these central questions also emerged. The ministers participated in NATO Engages, a two-day event co-hosted by the Atlantic Council on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Brussels.

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