President Joe Biden and Western allies open first of three summits on Russia’s war in Ukraine

BRUSSELS — U.S. President Joe Biden and Western allies on Thursday opened the first of three summits focused on increasing pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin over his war in Ukraine while tackling the economic and security fallout, spreading across Europe and the world.

Biden and other Allied leaders met at the alliance’s headquarters, where they posed for a group photo to commemorate the urgent gathering before retreating behind closed doors for their summit, which was expected to last several hours.

Over the course of Thursday, the European diplomatic capital will host a NATO emergency summit, as well as a meeting of the Group of Seven industrialized nations and a summit of the 27 members of the European Union. Biden will attend all three meetings and plans to hold a press conference at the end of the day.

Biden arrived here late Wednesday hoping to persuade allies to impose new sanctions on Russia, whose economy has already been crippled by a steady stream of bans, boycotts and penalties over the past four weeks.

While the West has been largely united in confronting Russia after it invaded Ukraine, there is widespread admission that unity will be tested as the costs of the war affect the global economy.

The strengthening of forces along NATO’s eastern flank, almost certainly for at least the next 5-10 years, if Russia is to be effectively deterred from doing so, will also put pressure on national budgets.

“We need to do more, and therefore we need to invest more. There is a renewed sense of urgency and I expect leaders will agree to accelerate investment in defense,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said before chairing the security alliance summit.

En route to Brussels aboard Air Force One, Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters, “What we’d like to hear is that the determination and unity that we’ve seen over the past month will last as long as it does.” lasts .”

The energy crisis, exacerbated by the war, will be a particularly hot topic at the European Council summit, where leaders from Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece are hoping for an urgent, coordinated bloc-wide response. EU officials have said they will seek US help for a plan to fill up natural gas storage facilities for next winter, and they also want the bloc to buy gas together.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz has rejected calls for a boycott of Russian energy supplies on the grounds that this would severely damage his country’s economy. Scholz is facing pressure from environmental activists to quickly decouple Germany from Russian energy, but he said the process must be gradual.

“To do that overnight would mean plunging our country and all of Europe into a recession,” said Scholz on Wednesday.

Poland and other NATO countries on the eastern flank will also seek clarity on how the United States and other European nations can help address their growing concerns about Russian aggression, as well as a deepening refugee crisis. More than 3.5 million refugees have fled Ukraine in recent weeks, including more than 2 million to Poland.

Biden is scheduled to travel to Poland on Friday, where both issues are expected to be the focus of talks with President Andrzej Duda. Another important moment could come just before Biden returns to Washington on Saturday. The White House said he plans to “make comments on the united efforts of the free world to support the people of Ukraine, hold Russia accountable for its brutal war and defend a future grounded in democratic principles.”

Sullivan said that Biden and other leaders would aim to “set out a longer-term game plan” about what forces and capabilities will be required for countries on the alliance’s eastern flank.

Four new NATO task forces, typically numbering between 1,000 and 1,500 troops, will be formed in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is expected to address the NATO summit via video, said late Wednesday that he wanted the alliance to “declare that it will fully help Ukraine win this war” by providing all necessary supplies weapons.

Meanwhile, national security officials from Washington to Warsaw are growing concerned that Putin could use chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons. Sullivan said the Allies were conferring how to respond to “potential contingencies” of this nature, including “this whole question of the possible use of nuclear weapons.”

Before leaving for Brussels on Wednesday, Biden told reporters he believes the possibility of Russia using chemical weapons is a “real threat.”

Stoltenberg declined to worry Thursday whether such a strike is a red line that would draw the alliance into a war with Russia. “I will not speculate beyond the fact that NATO is always ready to defend, protect and respond to any type of attack on a NATO-allied country,” he said.

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

The head of the European Union executive said she wants to discuss with Biden the possibility of securing additional supplies of liquefied natural gas from the United States for the 27-nation bloc.

Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament before Biden’s visit that the EU is seeking a commitment to additional LNG supplies from the US “for the next two winters”.

The EU imports 90% of the natural gas used to generate electricity, heat homes and power industry, with Russia supplying almost 40% of EU gas and a quarter of its oil. The bloc is looking at ways to reduce its dependence on Russian gas by diversifying suppliers.

Sullivan said the United States is looking at ways to “boost” LNG shipments to Europe to offset supply disruptions.

For his part, Biden was expected to detail plans for new sanctions on Russia and humanitarian aid to the region.

A new sanctions option Biden is considering is to target members of Russia’s State Duma, the lower house of parliament, according to a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations. The official added that a final decision had not yet been made and that the new sanctions would be introduced in coordination with western allies.

According to a poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, Biden arrived in Brussels and Americans increasingly accepted the need for the US to play a role with Putin.

But even as concerns have risen among Americans and support for a major U.S. role in the conflict has increased over the past month, Biden’s negative approval rating has not changed, according to the AP-NORC poll. Few are very confident in his ability to handle a crisis, and a majority believe he lacks toughness when dealing with Russia.

Biden promised voters he has the experience to manage a complicated international emergency like the one now unfolding in Europe, and his trip will be the latest test of that proposal as he tries to maintain unity among Western allies and prepare for potentially even greater challenges.

At a time when it is important to avoid breaks in what has been a largely unified Western response to Russia, the US president will seek to urge key allies like Poland to roll back the idea of ​​sending a Western peacekeeping mission to Ukraine. It’s an idea that the US and some other NATO members see as too risky, as they seek to deny Russia any pretext for expanding the war beyond Ukraine’s borders.

For his home audience, Biden is once again set to underline the exploits of the Ukrainian military and volunteers who managed to hold back an imposing Russian military. He will highlight those remarkable efforts — as well as the generosity of Poland and other allies on the front lines of the humanitarian crisis — while doubling down on his calls for Americans to stand firm against a Russian war that spurs gas price hikes and adds to inflationary pressures in the US


Madhani reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Matthew Lee, Hannah Fingerhut and Darlene Superville in Washington and Samuel Petrequin in Brussels contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. President Joe Biden and Western allies open first of three summits on Russia’s war in Ukraine

Laura Coffey

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