Biden’s game plan in Brussels: hit Putin and embrace the West

His comments were part of a tougher stance on Putin, who reportedly plans to attend the G-20 summit in October. While Biden declined to share US intelligence on whether Putin could deploy chemical weapons in his country’s war against Ukraine, he threatened to “reply if he used it” and promised that such an attack would “trigger an in-kind response” from NATO forces.

Biden’s trip was largely an effort to build on his familiarity with world leaders and his long career in foreign affairs to hold the West together with a unified increase in pressure on Moscow and economic and military aid. to Ukraine. On Thursday, his administration joined other governments in putting in place next steps to impose broader sanctions on Russia and step up humanitarian aid and assistance to refugees.

For Biden, time is running out, with growing doubts at home as he is at the moment. A new associated press survey found that around a quarter of those polled said they were very confident in his ability to handle the current crisis, and a majority thought he lacked the tenacity to counter Russia.

While the trip to Brussels represented a chance to tout diplomatic gains made, it also exposed the limits of the West’s response to Putin.

Biden was optimistic about the NATO alliance, but resisted calls from Ukraine to impose a no-fly zone in the country. He called for Russia’s ousting from the G-20, but conceded that is unlikely to happen. He unveiled new penalties but acknowledged that they are not and have not been dissuasive. And while his administration wants Europe to stop relying on Russian energy, it recognizes that this cannot be done immediately or completely.

With the conflict potentially escalating further, Biden relied on a small group of senior national security officials who held classified meetings three times a week to determine how the United States and its allies should respond if Putin releases chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. .

The group, known as Tiger Team, has also begun exploring how to react if Putin expands the war to NATO countries or seeks to attack neighboring countries like Georgia and Moldova, according to two administration officials. not allowed to speak publicly about the secret organization.

The group recommended that Biden change tactics and not explicitly outline what he would or would not be prepared to do if Putin had to dip into his arsenal for a more lethal weapon, officials said. This differs from Biden’s approach in most conflicts, when he very clearly drew the lines of what his response to Putin would be.

Biden did not come to Brussels empty-handed. He announced that the United States would take in up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees and stood with its allies to impose new sanctions on Russia while sending more supplies and funds to Ukraine.

Arming has become a pressing Ukrainian demand, according to two administration officials. Ukrainian defense officials have begun warning their allies that their army may run out of ammunition, including anti-aircraft missiles, in the coming weeks. U.S. officials are working with NATO allies to expedite the delivery of those weapons, the officials said.

The leaders are facing increased calls to help Ukraine from its president, who appeared via video at NATO and G7 meetings with the half-dozen other advanced nations. Volodymyr Zelenskyy has criticized the allies for their refusal to provide fighter jets – so far a non-starter given the likelihood that Russia would see it as an escalation that could lead to direct conflict with Western powers.

“NATO has yet to show what the alliance can do to save people,” Zelenskyy told his counterparts. β€œTo show that this really is the strongest defense union in the world. And the world is waiting. And Ukraine expects a lot. Waiting for real actions. Real security guarantees.

As Biden left the NATO meeting to reconvene with the G-7, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed to reporters that NATO had agreed to activate chemical, biological and nuclear defense systems, a decision that , according to him, would allow him to move forces more quickly to where they are needed. He also issued a warning on behalf of the group to China that it should not attempt to save Russia from crippling sanctions, echoing remarks made earlier in the day by a senior Biden administration official.

“They should join the rest of the world and clearly condemn the brutal war on Ukraine and not support Russia” – both economically and militarily, Stoltenberg said after the meeting with Biden.

Stoltenberg, whose term was extended on Thursday until September next year, added that “any use of chemical weapons would fundamentally change the nature of the conflict.” But he would not say how the alliance would react if such an attack were to occur.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an interview earlier this week that Russia might consider using its nuclear weapons if it felt there was “an existential threat to our country.”

In many ways, the Biden presidency had built up to this point.

An ocean away from home politics, he reminded a reporter in Brussels of his jump into the 2020 presidential campaign after seeing his predecessor Donald Trump’s response to the clash between white supremacists and anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville, Va. A central argument in his campaign was that his president would break with Trump and restore America as a staunch partner to its international allies.

Biden’s first trip to NATO as commander-in-chief last summer included promises to strengthen ties so democracies can compete with the world’s rising autocracies. Its mending work has been tested over the past month – and so far the alliance has largely held while presenting a unified opposition to Putin.

But possible fissures, notably around Europe’s dependence on Russian energy, were looming on the horizon. And the possible return of Trump too. When asked at the press conference how US foreign policy might change if the former Republican president is re-elected in 2024, Biden touted his engagement with allies and said he would be “lucky” if a eventual bid for re-election was a rematch with his predecessor. .


Politico

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