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Mission not yet accomplished: Biden heads to Europe in hopes of keeping Ukraine coalition intact


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

The war began to slip out of international headlines. The president must convince other leaders, whose economies are battered by runaway inflation, to keep funneling money and weapons to Ukraine instead of keeping them at home.

Some of his peers were wracked by scandal and defeat, their political status weakened. And Biden himself has seen his poll numbers plummet as costs rise and a nation nervously awaits a Supreme Court ruling that could roll back abortion rights and reshape the domestic landscape while He is abroad.

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

“But the way to keep the alliance together is to chart a path forward, a path to success,” Taylor said. “That’s what the president has to 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, then a NATO gathering in Spain.

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

For this trip, advisers say he will use the trip to push allies to stay the course, saying Ukraine must be defended not just to deter future Russian violence, but to send a message around the world – including to China – that united democracies do not allow autocratic aggression.

The agenda, according to the White House, is aimed at showing support for Ukraine while trying to manage the disruption the war has caused to the global economy, particularly with regard to energy and food prices. food. The president plans to back Finland’s and Sweden’s bids for NATO membership again while working to assuage Turkey’s objections. The White House suggested Biden would also champion a global infrastructure initiative and hinted that more sanctions against Russia could be unveiled.

“He came into office for the express purpose of revitalizing and strengthening our allies and our partnerships around the world and that’s what he did,” said John Kirby of the White House National Security Council. “He elevated these partnerships to address the central challenges of our time.”

A year ago, Biden met the G-7, a group of the world’s wealthiest 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 that trip – was widely 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.

This has changed.

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

When Biden visited Brussels and Poland in March, he pushed Europe to balance morality and geopolitics imperative to act on behalf of Ukraine with fears of a 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 decapitation of Kyiv have dashed and ties between Western nations have grown closer. Much to the fury of Moscow, a debate over NATO expansion to Sweden and Finland is set to dominate the alliance summit in Madrid.

But Putin did not give up his war. Although the Russian military suffered immense losses, Moscow redirected its efforts to Ukraine’s Donbass region, 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 request more weapons as its losses mount.

But as the war becomes deadlier, tensions have begun to arise among the allies.

Although Washington has authorized tens of billions of dollars in funding for Ukraine, there have been questions about whether certain countries, namely Germany, have contributed their fair share to Kyiv. Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports has contributed to soaring food prices, now exacerbating pandemic-fueled inflation gripping much of the world. And sanctions on Russia, along with bans on part of its energy sector, have led to skyrocketing gas prices.

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

Some in Europe have tried to push Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to the negotiating table, believing that a negotiated resolution could save lives and stabilize economies. But Zelenskyy has refused to cede any territory to Putin, especially after evidence of Russian war atrocities, creating the feeling that the conflict in the east could drag on for months or even years.

Biden himself will arrive in Europe politically weaker than on his last trip in March, his approval ratings torpedoed by inflation as Democrats fear a midterm annihilation in November. Some of Biden’s closest allies have suffered recent political setbacks – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson barely survived a vote of no confidence while French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron suffered a stunning parliamentary defeat – which could complicate their resolution.

“Even if the French president wields considerable influence on foreign policy issues, his weakened position will likely lead to a more cautious attitude,” said Charles Kupchan, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and professor at Georgetown University. This is “not good news for the United States as Washington looks to Europe to take on more geopolitical responsibilities.”

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 played down that possibility this week, noting the incredible security effort required for a president to travel safely to a war zone and the likelihood that Russia would be on high alert for a possible trip. when Biden was already in Europe. Much more likely, aides speculated, it would be a secret visit at a later date.

And Biden will always hear from Zelenskyy, who is expected to address both summits virtually and make urgent calls for allies to keep sending arms and cash to his beleaguered nation.

“The United States must send a unified message of support from developed democracies to Ukraine. Zelenskyy’s participation in the summit should underscore this 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 to new material commitments or measures to impose new consequences. on Russia.

Additional reporting by Nahal Toosi

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