West is more united than ever

At the end of his first day in Europe this week, President Joe Biden didn’t hesitate when asked if a first-hand look at the refugee crisis would change his view of the war in Ukraine.

“I don’t think so, because I’ve been in so many war zones. I’ve been in refugee camps,” he told a press conference Thursday at the headquarters of the NATO in Brussels.

The president added another conflict to that list this week during a trip to Europe intended to reassure the world that the West remains united in opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On Saturday night, Biden returns to Washington — after meeting with refugees in Poland — having accomplished much of what he set out to do.

“Let there be no doubt that this war has already been a strategic failure for Russia,” Biden said in a speech Saturday night at the Royal Castle in Warsaw. “The West is now stronger and more united than it has ever been.”

Biden also appeared to call for the removal of Russian President Vladimir Putin from power in Russia. “For the love of God, this man can’t stay in power,” Biden said of Putin. A White House official clarified after the speech that Biden’s view was that Putin “cannot be allowed to wield power over his neighbors or the region”, and that the president was not referring to the “power Putin in Russia or regime change”.

Polish President Andrzej Duda welcomes us. President Joe Biden at the Presidential Palace on March 26, 2022 in Warsaw, Poland. Biden arrived in Poland on March 25, meeting the Polish president as well as US troops stationed near the Ukrainian border, bolstering NATO’s eastern flank.
Omar Marques/Getty Images

The speech capped a three-day trip to Europe that began with a whirlwind day of summits in Brussels on Thursday. As part of the meetings, NATO announced it had approved the deployment of four additional battlegroups to Eastern Europe, a move aimed at deterring Putin from extending the war beyond Ukraine’s borders. .

NATO now has 40,000 troops under its direct command in Europe. The United States has 100,000 troops stationed in Europe, the most in nearly two decades.

Biden reassured Ukraine that he would continue to provide military assistance, noting that the United States had committed more than $2 billion in military aid to the country since he took office. Biden also announced in Brussels that his administration was prepared to spend more than $1 billion to help address the humanitarian crisis.

So far, 3.7 million Ukrainians have fled the country in just over a month, according to the UN refugee agency. Millions more have been internally displaced by the Russian invasion, which appears to have stalled after fierce resistance by Ukrainian forces during the first month of fighting.

The majority of refugees, more than 2 million, have fled to Poland, which bears the brunt of Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II.

The White House waited until the president was in Europe to announce that the United States would accept up to 100,000 refugees from Ukraine, a sign that the administration believes it must take a more active role in helping families whose lives have suffered. been disrupted by the war.

Biden also used the trip to strike an energy deal with the European Union that both sides said would help Europe reduce its dependence on Russian fossil fuels. Under the deal, the United States and other countries will get an additional 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas for Europe.

The agreement stopped short of imposing a European embargo on Russian oil and gas. A ban on Russia’s most valuable exports would further cripple the Russian economy, which already faces unprecedented sanctions against major financial institutions and wealthy elites. But it would also drive up energy prices in Europe, which imports 40% of its gas from Russia.

Analysts said the deal announced by the United States and Europe was something of a short-term sleight of hand, as most of the additional liquefied natural gas is existing supply that will be shifted to the ‘Europe from Asia and other markets, and will not come from new power generation.

Liquefied natural gas, or LNG, is easier to transport and produces fewer carbon emissions than other fossil fuels like coal and oil. But the global LNG market does not have enough capacity to fully replace traditional energy sources in Europe.

Yet the deal, which will also boost renewable energy generation, represents a significant policy shift that could help the European Union achieve its goal of ending its dependence on Russian energy from by the end of the decade, according to White House officials and independent economic analysts. .

“This is a great achievement in terms of transatlantic cooperation,” said Natasha Kaneva, head of global oil and commodities research at JP Morgan.

The entire trip was meant to show a renewed spirit of cooperation between the United States and its NATO and European allies, after years of strained relations under President Donald Trump. He clashed with American allies and frequently threatened to withdraw from NATO, although he never followed through. Even the so-called family photo, when leaders pose on risers for a group portrait, was often uncomfortable, as Trump stood awkwardly next to his counterparts with whom he was openly arguing.

G7 leaders at NATO summit
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, US President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pose for a family photo of G7 leaders during a NATO summit on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, on March 24. , 2022 in Brussels, Belgium.
Henry Nicholls/Pool/Getty Images

Biden, by contrast, appeared in his element saluting leaders during a full day of back-to-back meetings in Brussels, some of which he has experienced since his years as vice president.

At Thursday’s press conference, Biden gave a lengthy response on the 2024 presidential election, seeming to enjoy stepping away from world affairs for a moment to reflect on US politics. He became frustrated when a reporter asked him why economic sanctions hadn’t deterred Putin from launching the invasion, but he was otherwise optimistic when he spoke of the unity displayed by Western leaders in the face of the Russia.

After arriving in Poland on Friday, Biden, dressed more casually in a suit without a tie, joked with US troops stationed at a military base in the southeast town of Rzeszow, less than 100 miles from the Ukrainian border.

Later that day, Biden lamented that he couldn’t visit Ukraine himself, which he might have been able to do as a senator or even vice president.

“I’m here in Poland to see the humanitarian crisis firsthand. And frankly, part of my disappointment is that I can’t see it firsthand, like I have in other places,” Biden said. He added that he understood why, alluding to the security risks of a sitting president entering a country embroiled in an active war.

White House advisers kept his visit to the border region a secret, not giving details of the stop to the traveling press until the night before.

The final stop on Biden’s trip was Warsaw, the Polish capital, where he held a bilateral meeting with President Andrzej Duda, then delivered a speech at the Royal Castle before departing for Washington.

Biden has made the war part of a larger battle whose roots go back to the Cold War era.

“This is nothing less than a direct challenge to the rules-based international order established” after World War II, he said. Biden also urged the West to prepare to continue helping Ukraine for some time.

“This battle will also not be won in days or months. We must arm ourselves” for a long fight, Biden said.

Despite all the travel accomplished, Biden leaves Europe facing a host of challenges surrounding the continued US response to Russian aggression in Ukraine.

A senior Russian general said on Friday that Russia was entering a “new phase” of the conflict, centered on securing eastern Ukraine. Sergei Rudskoi, Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, claimed that was Russia’s main objective from the start, a sign that Russia was seeking to reframe its invasion narrative after having suffered significant military losses in the first month of the war.

With its advance stalled, Russia began pounding Ukrainian cities with airstrikes, rockets and artillery fire. The UN said on Saturday that 1,104 civilians had been killed and 1,754 injured in the war, but noted that it believed “the actual figures are considerably higher”.

Biden and Duda in Poland
US President Joe Biden meets with Polish President Andrzej Duda on March 25, 2022 in Rzeszow, Poland.
Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images

During the first weeks of the war, Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelensky constantly called on NATO to impose a no-fly zone over the country, to prevent Russia from targeting civilians from the air. But the United States and NATO have rebuffed calls, arguing it would force a direct confrontation with Russia.

Zelensky did not explicitly renew the demand in video remarks to NATO and Group of Seven nations this week, a sign he may now be resigned to the idea that the no-fly zone won’t happen. . On the ground in Ukraine, people following Biden’s trip to Europe seemed equally resigned to that fact and urged the United States to do more to arm Ukrainians with anti-aircraft systems.

“We understand that they cannot establish a no-fly zone. We understand,” Vitaliy Radetsky, Ukraine’s former defense minister, said in a phone interview. Radetsky, who leads a battalion of civilian territorial defense forces near kyiv, added: “but we also know that Russia will not stop.”

Voldymyr Omelyan, who served as Ukraine’s infrastructure minister under Zelensky, praised the United States and NATO for sending so much military aid to Ukraine.

The answer from the West might be “the right approach to avoid WWIII. But we can’t explain this to dead Ukrainians and dead civilians, that it’s a big game, and you should just get used to being bombed and killed,” Omelyan said in a telephone interview from Kyiv.

Omelyan said that in Ukraine, many are convinced that Russia will launch a chemical or biological weapons attack. Biden was asked about the possibility in Brussels. He said the West would “respond in kind”, but gave no further details.

It was a chilling reminder that for Ukraine and the West, darker days could still be ahead.