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Biden takes message of toughness against Putin to wayward allies

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(Bloomberg) — President Joe Biden faces a crucial test of his ability to project power and calm amid the biggest European security crisis in decades, as he seeks to rally U.S. allies around tougher sanctions. to punish Russia for invading Ukraine.

Biden is set to take part in back-to-back summits with NATO, the Group of Seven and the European Union in Brussels on Thursday, in which the general need to plug the cracks in international support for Ukraine will collide with disagreements over the extent to which sanctions should be applied. target energy, because of Europe’s dependence on Russian gas.

The desire to show a common position against Russian President Vladimir Putin cannot hide the reality that, despite all the strong words, there is no will to intervene militarily in a bloody conflict at the gates of NATO. Betting has been suspect over fears that Putin may resort to using weapons of mass destruction, as well as concerns over China’s role and how Russia’s most powerful diplomatic ally may seek to profit from the crisis. .

In a moving speech to the US Congress last week, Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky presented graphic video footage of Russian bombing of Ukraine and spoke in English to call on Biden to be the “leader of the world.” , citing the example of the US to change the outcome of World War II. The last time the US intervened directly to end a conflict in the region was in the Balkans during the 1990s.

Since then, a series of foreign policy setbacks culminating in the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan have dampened US enthusiasm before intervening in another conflict. Biden has already rejected one of Zelensky’s main demands, that of closing Ukrainian airspace, arguing that it would provoke a fight between the US and Russia, two powers with nuclear weapons.

But he needs to find another way to increase pressure on Putin without alienating allies or precipitating a broader war. As the conflict enters its fourth week, the Russian military campaign has faltered, but its forces have occupied considerable territory in the south and east of the country, with a growing number of civilian casualties.

Sanctions and energetic planes

Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said at a briefing Tuesday in Brussels that the president and European allies will join “in imposing new sanctions on Russia and tightening existing sanctions to end the evasion and ensure robust enforcement.

They will also announce a “joint action to improve European energy security and finally reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas,” Sullivan added.

He did not elaborate on any of the announcements.

The Wall Street Journal reported that new measures to be announced Thursday would include sanctions on more than 300 members of Russia’s State Duma, the lower house of parliament.

The most moving and emotional part of Biden’s trip will take place on Friday, when he visits Poland, a NATO ally that has received the largest number of displaced Ukrainians in what has become Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II. World War.

It also raises alarm about how to respond to any possible use of chemical weapons by Russia. The US has repeatedly announced that Moscow may be planning a pretext to use such weapons.

Its use may prompt countries like Germany to back sanctions on Russia’s energy exports, according to a person familiar with the matter, a move Berlin and others have so far resisted.

In all of this, Biden will have to ensure that European allies are on the same page in communicating to China the consequences of providing Russia with any material support or help to soften the blow of sanctions.

“We believe that we are very much in tune with our European partners, and we will speak with one voice on this issue,” Sullivan of the White House said.

An EU official said the allies would discuss how to send a joint message to Beijing, though it was unclear what the tone of toughness would be. France, in particular, believes NATO allies should not put too much pressure on China, two officials said.

“If there are publicly perceived fractures in the relationship, that will hurt Ukraine and embolden Russia,” said Josh Lipsky, a former State Department official in the Obama administration. “If it is seen, both from a staging point of view and from a political point of view, that there is still unity in a way that Putin never expected, then I think he will see that he underestimated the West.”

original note:

Biden takes message of toughness against Putin to rebel allies (1)

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