Mission Not Yet Accomplished: Biden heads to Europe hoping to keep Ukraine coalition intact

Mission Not Yet Accomplished: Biden heads to Europe hoping to keep Ukraine coalition intact

In many ways, Biden’s job next week is more difficult.

The war has begun to fade from international headlines. The president must convince other leaders, with their economies battered by rising inflation, to keep funneling money and weapons to Ukraine instead of keeping them at home.

Some of his peers have been hit by scandal and defeat, and his political position has been weakened. And Biden himself has seen his poll numbers plummet as costs rise and a nation nervously awaits a Supreme Court decision that could reverse abortion rights and reshape the national landscape while he’s in office. Foreign.

“He has a harder job now because of all the economic issues on the table, but the support is still there,” said William Taylor, a former US ambassador to Ukraine. “For now, the Europeans are gritting their teeth and staying the course even though they have bigger problems with oil and natural gas than we do.”

“But the way to keep the alliance together is to chart a path forward, a path to success,” Taylor said. “That is what the president should do.”

Biden will have two stops in Europe after Air Force One takes off from Joint Base Andrews on Saturday: first, Germany for the G-7 summit and then a NATO meeting in Spain.

Biden has received high marks, including from some Republicans, for his handling of the war, but White House aides have resigned themselves to the reality that he likely won’t change a single vote this fall as the election appears to be dominated. for inflation and other issues. Instead, they are moving to prevent domestic public opinion from souring on the war and hampering Biden’s ability to execute his preferred approach.

For this trip, advisers say he will use the trip to pressure allies to stay the course, declaring that Ukraine must be defended not only to deter future Russian violence, but also to send a message around the world, i.e. , to China, that the united democracies will remain. Do not allow autocratic aggression.

The agenda, according to the White House, is aimed at showing support for Ukraine while trying to manage the disruptions that the war has caused in the world economy, specifically in energy and food prices. The president plans to once again support the Finnish and Swedish bids for NATO membership as he works to assuage Turkey’s objections. The White House suggested that Biden would also champion a global infrastructure initiative and hinted that further sanctions against Russia may be revealed.

“He took office for the express purpose of reinvigorating and strengthening our allies and partnerships around the world, and he has done just that,” said John Kirby of the White House National Security Council. “He has elevated these partnerships to meet the central challenges of our time.”

A year ago, Biden met with the G-7, a group of the world’s richest democracies, on the English coast and was hailed for ushering in a return to normalcy after Donald Trump’s tumultuous tenure. At the time, Putin, whom Biden would meet in Geneva later in that trip, was largely seen as a nuisance, a threat that paled in comparison to the challenges posed by China and the fight to vaccinate the world against Covid. -19.

That has changed.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February upended the world order, sparking Europe’s biggest conflict since World War II. But it also pushed the world’s democracies to confront Moscow.

When Biden visited Brussels and Poland in March, he pushed Europe to balance morality and geopolitics. It is imperative to act on Ukraine’s behalf alongside fears of further escalation of the conflict and the economic costs of implementing an aggressive sanctions regime against Russia.

The West unleashed a series of punitive sanctions against Russia and made Putin a pariah on the world stage. Moscow’s hopes of a lightning beheading of Kyiv failed and ties between Western nations grew closer. Much to Moscow’s fury, a debate on NATO’s expansion to include Sweden and Finland is poised to dominate the alliance’s summit in Madrid.

But Putin did not abandon his war. Although the Russian army suffered immense casualties, Moscow redirected its efforts to the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, where its supply lines are shorter and the Red Army could better exploit its overwhelming numbers. With brutal violence, Russia has made slow but undeniable progress, prompting Kyiv to urgently ask for more weapons as its losses mount.

But as the war grows deadlier, tensions have begun to show between the allies.

Although Washington has authorized tens of billions of dollars in funds for Ukraine, there have been questions about whether some countries, namely Germany, have contributed their fair share to Kyiv. Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s ports has contributed to skyrocketing food prices and is now exacerbating pandemic-driven inflation affecting much of the world. And sanctions against Russia, as well as bans on part of its energy sector, have caused gas prices to rise.

“There is a growing feeling that the sanctions are not actually affecting Putin’s ability to wage war, but rather have amplifying effects on energy prices and general inflation,” said Alina Polyakova, president of the Center for European Policy Analysis.

Some in Europe have tried to push Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to the negotiating table, believing a negotiated resolution could save lives and stabilize economies. But Zelenskyy has refused to cede any territory to Putin, particularly after evidence of the atrocities of the Russian war, creating a sense that the conflict in the east could last for months, if not years.

Biden himself will arrive in Europe politically weaker than during his last trip in March, his approval rating will be hit by inflation as Democrats fear elimination in November’s midterm elections. Some of Biden’s closest allies have suffered recent political setbacks: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson barely survived a no-confidence vote, while French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron suffered a shock parliamentary defeat, which could complicate your resolution.

“Although the French president enjoys considerable influence on foreign policy matters, his weakened position will likely prompt a more cautious stance,” said Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a professor at Georgetown University. That is “not good news for the United States when Washington has been looking to Europe for greater geopolitical responsibility.”

Many Western leaders have made surprise visits to Ukraine in recent weeks, and there was rampant speculation in Washington that Biden would do the same in Europe. But the White House downplayed the possibility this week, noting the incredible security effort needed for a president to safely visit a war zone and the likelihood that Russia is on high alert for a possible trip while Biden is already out. in Europe. Far more likely, aides have speculated, would be a covert visit at a later date.

And Biden will still hear from Zelenskyy, who is expected to virtually address both summits and make urgent pleas for allies to continue sending weapons and money to his besieged nation.

“The United States needs to send a unified message of support from developed democracies to Ukraine. Zelenskyy’s participation in the Summit should underscore that point,” said Jeff Rathke, president of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University, “especially if the United States and its allies can show progress through new material commitments or measures. to impose new consequences. about Russia.”

Additional reporting by Nahal Toosi

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