Joe Biden’s high-stakes trip to Europe for NATO summit begins

Joe Biden had his hands full as he stepped out of the White House to begin his four-day trip through Europe. Two cell phones were stacked in one hand; a pair of his signature aviator sunglasses in the other. Above the beating rotors of the waiting Marine One helicopter, a reporter asked Biden if he was concerned about Russia using chemical weapons in Ukraine. “I think that’s a real threat,” Biden said, turning to the helicopter’s spinning blades and putting on the goggles.

The stakes are high for Biden’s trip. There are growing fears inside the White House that Russia could escalate the war and cause massive civilian casualties in kyiv or the coastal city of Mariupol, which Russia has been bombing for weeks. The United States has pushed back against demands by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries to impose a no-fly zone in Ukraine, fearing such a direct fight could escalate into a wider war. . But experts warn that a Russian escalation inside Ukraine could change that reckoning for Western allies.

At meetings in Europe on March 24-25, Biden will discuss Moscow’s potential use of chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, how countries should respond to possible Russian cyberattacks, and how to handle the recent Russian rhetoric on nuclear weapons. He attends an emergency summit at NATO headquarters in Belgium and meets with the leaders of the G7 countries and the European Union. Before returning to the United States, Biden will visit President Andrzej Duda in Warsaw, Poland, east of the NATO alliance. Poland, which shares a border with Ukraine and Russia’s ally Belarus, has felt the shock waves of Russia’s month-long war, hosting 3 million refugees and becoming the main route of transport weapons to reinforce the Ukrainian defences.

During the trip, Biden will also try to get allies to make sure the financial sanctions they already have in place continue to pinch the Russian economy. Sanctions against Russian industry and financial transactions won’t mean much if Russia finds ways around them. Biden wants to see European allies task investigators and prosecutors with strong sanctions enforcement. “What we would like to hear is that the resolve and unity that we have seen over the past month will last as long as it takes,” Biden National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said. to reporters March 23 aboard Air Force One en route to Belgium.

But while Biden has so far largely kept NATO allies united in their response, this trip will test the group’s resolve. There are disagreements between the United States and its allies over the extent of current sanctions against Russia and next steps. Finding ways to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and gas has been the subject of “intense back and forth” over the past few days, Sullivan said, and is another ” substantial topic of conversation” for Biden during the trip.

Biden banned US purchases of Russian oil and gas on March 8. Germany and other European countries that are more dependent on Russian energy imports have largely maintained Russian fuel. The Biden White House thinks Europe can do more to wean itself off Russian energy. The United States wants Germany, for example, to go further in reducing Russian energy purchases. White House officials have considered shutting down the US banking system to electronic transfers paying for Russian energy, but will not take this harsh step without the agreement of allies whose national energy supply depends on Russian gas and oil. .

Germany, for its part, is looking at ways in which the United States and other allies could mitigate the impact on the German economy if there were further cuts in the purchase of Russian energy. The United States has increased deliveries of liquefied natural gas to Europe in recent weeks, but European leaders want more help to invest in alternatives to Russian supplies. European countries also want to share the expense and resettlement efforts of refugees fleeing Ukraine. More than 10 million people have fled Ukraine in the fighting, and Europe is looking to the United States and other allies to find ways to share the cost and impact of mass migration too fast.

Above Biden’s meetings is the question of how far China will go to support Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine and how allies should respond. So far, the White House has seen no evidence that China is supplying arms or ammunition to Russia to help with the invasion, Sullivan said. But there are growing fears that China could take financial measures to mitigate the longer-term impact of the sanctions on the economy of Russia, a close trading partner. Biden wants to talk to allies to make sure “there is no systematic sanctions busting,” Sullivan said. “I don’t want to use the microphone to threaten, I just want to say it’s something we’re vigilant about.”

Putin’s assault on NATO’s doorstep in Ukraine clarified the alliance’s mission to protect Europe from invasion. Now Biden wants to see NATO allies deliver on commitments to increase military spending and the deployment of troops and equipment to Eastern Europe. NATO military commanders are considering the size of troop deployments needed over the next few months to protect Europe’s borders with Russia.

Since Poland’s border with Ukraine is used to resupply Ukrainian forces with weapons from European countries, Poland is a NATO ally currently in Russia’s crosshairs. Biden’s visit to the country at the end of his trip carries powerful symbolic weight in reaffirming American commitment to NATO and Poland, said Steven Durlauf, a professor at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. “They are on the firing line; If Russia goes crazy and crosses a NATO border, it will be theirs,” he says. Biden shaking hands with the Polish president in Warsaw right now, “is largely symbolic,” adds Durlauf, “but this is the time when symbols carry weight.”

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