President Biden meets with US allies in Europe, calls for new sanctions on Russia, help for Ukrainians

WASHINGTON — As Europe faces its most precarious future since World War II, President Joe Biden will meet with key allies in Brussels and Warsaw this week as leaders try to prevent Russia’s war on Ukraine from turning into an even greater disaster.

Biden on Wednesday embarked on a four-day trip that will test his ability to navigate the continent’s worst crisis since the end of World War II in 1945. There are fears that Russia could use chemical or nuclear weapons as its invasion has stalled amid logistical problems and fierce Ukrainian resistance.

“I think it’s a real threat,” Biden said of the possibility of Russia using chemical weapons. He spoke to reporters at the White House during a brief exchange before leaving for Brussels.

Humanitarian challenges are also growing. Millions of refugees have fled the fighting, mostly across the border into Poland, and the war has threatened Ukraine’s wheat and barley crops and raised the possibility of rising hunger in impoverished areas around the world.

Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, said the president will coordinate with allies on military aid to Ukraine and new sanctions on Russia.

A new sanctions option Biden is considering is to target hundreds of members of Russia’s State Duma, the lower house of parliament, according to a US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to make the move ahead of an announcement to discuss. The official added that no final decision had been made and that the new sanctions would be introduced in coordination with western allies.

Sullivan added that Biden is working on a long-term effort to strengthen defenses in Eastern Europe, where more countries fear Russian aggression. The president also aims to reduce the continent’s dependence on Russian energy.

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“This war is not going to end easily or quickly,” Sullivan told reporters at a White House briefing on Tuesday. “The West has been united in recent months. The President is traveling to Europe to make sure we stay united.”

Sullivan said Vladimir Putin’s references to nuclear weapons early in the conflict were “something we need to be concerned about,” adding that Biden will be discussing “possible responses” with allies if the Russian leader takes the step.

Sullivan’s description of Biden’s journey was another sign that the crisis is entering a new and uncertain phase.

After the initial invasion failed to overthrow the Ukrainian government, the war has become a grueling proposition for Putin, relying on airstrikes and artillery to devastate civilian communities. Negotiations between Ukraine and Russia have not resulted in a ceasefire or a way to end the conflict, and the US continues to supply weapons such as anti-tank missiles to Ukrainian forces.

The domino effects of war are also spreading. Biden warned that Russia could be planning cyberattacks that would affect US companies, and he spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday to warn him against supporting Russia with military or financial aid. Meanwhile, a senior State Department official visited India this week, shortly after that country decided to buy more Russian oil.

“This is one of those defining moments for an American leader to define his legacy internationally,” said Timothy Naftali, presidential historian at New York University.

Biden departed for Europe as public health officials noted a global spike in COVID-19 cases. Confirmed cases of the virus have been steadily declining worldwide since January, but rose again last week due to the more contagious Omicron variant and the suspension of COVID protocols in numerous countries in Europe, North America and elsewhere, the World Health Organization reported on Tuesday.

Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki announced Tuesday that she would not be traveling to Europe with Biden after testing positive for the virus for the second time in five months. According to the White House, Biden was last tested on Tuesday. Psaki said she had two “socially distanced meetings” with Biden on Monday and that he is not considered a “close contact,” according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

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Biden’s first stop is Brussels, where he will attend back-to-back meetings.

NATO is holding a hastily arranged emergency summit at which Biden is expected to reaffirm his support for Article 5 of the alliance’s charter, which obliges all members to collective defense if one is attacked.

“I think the meeting of all NATO leaders will give us another platform to demonstrate our unity, our support for Ukraine, but also our willingness to protect and defend all NATO allies,” NATO said Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday. “And by sending this message, we are preventing the conflict from escalating into a full-blown war between NATO and Russia.”

Biden will also attend meetings of the European Union and the Group of Seven, which includes the world’s wealthiest democracies.

He then travels to Warsaw on Friday to speak with Polish officials about the enormous humanitarian burden of the Ukrainian refugee crisis. Biden is scheduled to meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda on Saturday.

Duda, whose country suffered from a brutal Nazi occupation during World War II, compared Russia’s actions in Ukraine to Adolf Hitler’s notorious SS forces. During his visit to Bulgaria on Tuesday, Duda said Putin’s army “behaves the same way”. He said he hoped those responsible for attacks on civilians would be brought before international courts.

Polish leaders have been pushing for a Western peacekeeping mission to intervene in Ukraine, a move the US and other Western allies fear could lead to an escalation of the war. The Polish leadership also wants a stronger military presence along NATO’s eastern flank.

Sullivan said Biden’s trip to Poland was an important opportunity to “meet a very vulnerable frontline ally.” Poland is also home to a growing number of US troops, and Sullivan suggested Biden could visit them as well.

Last week at NATO headquarters in Brussels, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and his counterparts considered what defenses should be built on the organisation’s eastern flank, from Estonia in the north through Latvia, Lithuania and Poland down to Bulgaria and Romania on the Black Sea.

The goal is to stop Putin from ordering an invasion of any of the 30 allies, not just for the duration of the war in Ukraine, but for the future.

Putin has demanded that NATO withdraw its forces on its eastern flank and halt its expansion.

Biden’s visit to Poland follows Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to Warsaw and Bucharest earlier this month. While Harris was in Poland, Duda called on the Biden administration to speed up visa procedures for Ukrainians with family members living in the US so they could settle in the US, at least temporarily.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. President Biden meets with US allies in Europe, calls for new sanctions on Russia, help for Ukrainians

Dais Johnston

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