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Thursday, May 19, 2022

What to expect from Biden’s visit to Europe

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The White House politely declined an invitation even before US President Joe Biden left for Europe. There are no plans to travel “to Ukraine,” Biden spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Sunday. Shortly before, the US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, had dashed expectations of a surprise coup: “As far as I know, that’s not an option,” she told CNN.

It is not entirely impossible, but highly unlikely, that Biden will comply with former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s request. He had demanded on CNN that the US president should be “courageous” and visit Ukraine “out of solidarity.”

In theory that would be possible, since Biden leaves this Wednesday for Europe. On Thursday he will attend the special NATO summit on Ukraine, a G7 meeting and then the regularly scheduled EU summit.

However, the White House program for Friday says only: “The president travels to Warsaw, Poland.” The flight lasts only two hours. He will not meet his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda until Saturday, before returning to Washington.

[Jeden Donnerstag die wichtigsten Entwicklungen aus Amerika direkt ins Postfach – mit dem Newsletter „Washington Weekly“ unserer USA-Korrespondentin Juliane Schäuble. Hier geht es zur kostenlosen Anmeldung.]

Would the nearly 80-year-old Biden be trusted to fly into the heart of the beleaguered capital of kyiv to take a photo with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy? It would not be the first visit by an American president to a war zone: George W. Bush was in Iraq and Barack Obama in Afghanistan.

Will Biden visit the Polish-Ukrainian border?

But the United States had troops stationed in both countries at the time. That is not the case in Ukraine, which is also not a member of NATO.

Thus, Biden is more likely to “spontaneously” detour to the Polish-Ukrainian border to say he has seen the situation for himself. His Foreign Minister, Antony Blinken, demonstrated this two weeks ago.

For Biden, the Ukraine war is both an opportunity and a risk. So far, Americans seem to approve of their seasoned president’s sensible course in dealing with the Russian aggressor.

Most Americans oppose a war effort.

Solidarity with Ukraine is high, while at the same time most Americans reject direct involvement in the war, which their president has clearly ruled out. Biden’s popularity ratings have risen recently in the polls, but they are not yet outstanding.

[Alle aktuellen Entwicklungen im Ukraine-Krieg können Sie hier in unserem Newsblog verfolgen.]

Above all, the high inflation – and especially the increase in gasoline prices – is attributed to his government, which has not taken the issue seriously for a long time. No improvement can be expected in the short term, and certainly not while war is raging in Europe.

Republicans accuse Biden of weakness

On the other hand, Republican attacks on Democrats in the White House have largely come to nothing. At the start of the invasion, his predecessor Donald Trump and his supporters said Biden had encouraged attacks on Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was aware of the weaknesses of the oldest American president of all time and was exploiting them.

These voices have grown quieter, and Biden seems weak to very few these days. The one who wanted to end “endless wars” has assumed the role of war president and leader of the free world, but he exercises it differently from many of his predecessors.

He called Putin a “murderer”

It is well known that he classified Putin as extremely dangerous from the beginning: once he called him a “gangster”, then a “murderer”, and today a “dictator” and a “war criminal”. Unlike many Western heads of state and government, he does not have to correct himself in his assessment of the Kremlin chief.

In addition, he, who has held political responsibilities for half a century, personally knows many of his colleagues in partner countries. Yes, he is old, but in this case that means above all: he has experience. He make mistakes and avoid them.

[Alle aktuellen Nachrichten zum russischen Angriff auf die Ukraine bekommen Sie mit der Tagesspiegel-App live auf ihr Handy. Hier für Apple- und Android-Geräte herunterladen]

The fact that the US secret services warned of a Russian attack months ago and openly shared their findings is seen as the main reason, along with the heroism of the Ukrainians, that the West could not be caught off guard by Putin and that the attack could. did. did not result in a Russian victory after only three days were up. Once again, US intelligence information is considered totally reliable and useful, which was not always the case.

The president of the United States refuses to be provoked

Biden, according to Washington, is currently doing everything right. He keeps the partners together and is not provoked. Not even when Putin said that he had put his nuclear forces on alert. Washington’s response was: There is no reason to react.

Furthermore, Biden is willing to listen and correct. When Congress urged him to impose an import ban on Russian oil, he soon relented, even if that will continue to drive up gas prices for the foreseeable future.

However, so far he has stuck to one point: weapons for the Ukrainians are fine, but there should be no direct deployment of US troops. That only becomes a problem if Putin attacks a NATO country. This is also why Biden is traveling to Warsaw: to reassure the concerned NATO partner that the United States has his back.

It is his third trip to Europe

It is extremely important to Biden that such trips are possible again after more than two years of the pandemic. The 79-year-old relies more on personal conversations than most politicians. During the election campaign, he suffered from the fact that he largely had to do without him. And since Biden took office, this is his third trip to Europe.

More about the Ukrainian war on Tagesspiegel Plus:

His spokesman Psaki described the intent of this trip as follows: “Mr. Biden’s goal is to meet face-to-face with his European partners and discuss where we are in the conflict, with Russia invading Ukraine.”

NATO has ruled out a no-fly zone

This, in turn, raises the question of whether there is an important message to convey from the summits. Will a new stage in NATO’s response to the Russian invasion be reached?

The United States and NATO reject a no-fly zone, as Zelenskyi urged last week during his virtual appearance before the US Congress. The risk of entering into a direct confrontation with the Russian armed forces is too great; in this context, Biden warned of a third world war.

For the same reason, no MiG-29 fighter jets should go to Ukraine. Instead, weapons that can be used “purely for defense” have been delivered.

On Tuesday, Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan announced new sanctions against Russia, without elaborating. These would be announced on Thursday in Brussels.

The number of Ukrainian refugees in the US is small

More support is also expected to be promised to countries that have hosted a disproportionately large number of refugees (there are currently more than two million in Poland). The US itself could soon welcome more people from Ukraine, so far the numbers are hardly worth mentioning.

All this does not seem like the breakthrough that could bring the end of the war closer. With each day that Russian missiles destroy life in Ukraine, the pressure to intervene mounts. Biden is still resisting this pressure.

But his national security adviser warned the public that it could still be a while. “Tough days are ahead for Ukraine, harder days for Ukrainian troops on the front lines and for civilians under Russian fire,” Sullivan said.

“This war will not end easily or quickly,” he warned. But Sullivan also reiterated that “Russia will never be able to take Ukraine from the Ukrainian people.”

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