By CHRIS MEGERIAN, LORNE COOK and AAMER MADHANI – Associated Press
BRUSSELS (AP) — U.S. President Joe Biden and his Western allies on Thursday opened the first of three summits focused on increasing pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin over his war in Ukraine while dealing with the fallout. economic and security issues that are spreading across Europe and the world.
Biden and leaders of other NATO nations met at the alliance’s headquarters where they posed for a group photo commemorating the urgent rally before stepping behind closed doors for their summit, which was expected to last several hours. .
During the day Thursday, the European diplomatic capital hosts an emergency summit of NATO as well as a gathering of the industrialized countries of the Group of Seven and a summit of the 27 members of the European Union. Biden will attend all three meetings and plans to hold a press conference at the end of the day.
Biden arrived here Wednesday night hoping to push his allies to pass new sanctions on Russia, which has already seen its economy crippled by a steady stream of bans, boycotts and sanctions over the past four weeks.
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While the West was largely unified in the face of Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, it is widely believed that unity will be tested as the costs of war weigh on the global economy.
The buildup of forces along NATO’s eastern flank, almost certainly for at least the next 5-10 years if Russia is to be effectively deterred, will also put pressure on national budgets.
“We need to do more, and therefore we need to invest more. There is a new sense of urgency and I expect leaders to agree to accelerate defense investments,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said before chairing the summit. security alliance.
En route to Brussels aboard Air Force One, Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told reporters that “what we’d like to hear is that the resolve and the unity that we’ve seen over the past month will last as long as it takes.”
The war-exacerbated energy crisis will be a particularly hot topic at the European Council summit, where leaders from Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece are hoping for an urgent and coordinated bloc-wide response. EU officials have said they will seek US help on a plan to complete natural gas storage facilities for next winter, and they also want the bloc to jointly buy gas.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has rejected calls for a boycott of Russian energy supplies, saying it would cause significant damage to his country’s economy. Scholz is facing pressure from environmental activists to quickly wean Germany off Russian energy, but he said the process will have to be gradual.
“To do so overnight would be tantamount to plunging our country and all of Europe into recession,” Scholz said on Wednesday.
Poland and other NATO nations on the eastern flank will also be looking at how the United States and other European nations can help address their growing concerns about Russian aggression as well as a refugee crisis in spiral. More than 3.5 million refugees have fled Ukraine in recent weeks, including more than 2 million to Poland.
Biden is due to visit Poland on Friday, where the two issues are expected to be the focus of discussions with President Andrzej Duda. Another big moment could come shortly before Biden returns to Washington on Saturday. The White House said he planned to “deliver remarks on the united efforts of the free world to support the people of Ukraine, hold Russia accountable for its brutal war, and defend a future rooted in democratic principles.”
Sullivan said Biden and his fellow leaders will aim to “establish a longer-term game plan” for the forces and capabilities that will be needed for countries on the eastern flank of the alliance.
Four new NATO battlegroups, usually numbering between 1,000 and 1,500 soldiers, are being set up in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is expected to address the NATO summit via video, said late Wednesday that he wanted the alliance to “declare that it will fully help Ukraine win this war” by providing all the necessary weapons.
All the while, national security officials from Washington to Warsaw are increasingly concerned that Putin is deploying chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons. Sullivan said the allies would consult on how to respond to “potential contingencies” such as this, including “this whole question of the potential use of nuclear weapons.”
Biden, before leaving for Brussels on Wednesday, told reporters he believed the possibility of Russia deploying chemical weapons was a “real threat.”
Stoltenberg would not be fired Thursday on whether such a strike is a red line that would drag the alliance into war with Russia. “I will not speculate beyond the fact that NATO is always ready to defend, protect and react to any type of attack against a NATO ally country,” he said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov in an interview with CNN this week said Russia might consider using its nuclear weapons if it felt there was “an existential threat to our country.”
The European Union’s chief executive said she wanted to talk with Biden about securing additional deliveries of liquefied natural gas from the United States for the 27-nation bloc.
Speaking in the European Parliament ahead of Biden’s visit, Ursula von der Leyen said the EU was seeking a commitment for additional LNG supplies from the United States “for the next two winters”.
The EU imports 90% of the natural gas used to generate electricity, heat homes and supply industry, with Russia supplying nearly 40% of the EU’s gas and a quarter of its oil. The bloc is looking for ways to reduce its dependence on Russian gas by diversifying its suppliers.
Sullivan said the United States is looking for ways to increase LNG supply to Europe to help offset supply disruptions.
Biden, for his part, was to detail plans for new sanctions against Russia and humanitarian aid for the region.
A new sanctions option being considered by Biden is to target members of Russia’s State Duma, the lower house of parliament, according to a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations. The official added that no final decision had been made and that the new sanctions would be rolled out in coordination with Western allies.
Biden arrived in Brussels as Americans increasingly accepted the need for the United States to play a role in stopping Putin, according to a poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
But even as Americans’ concern has grown and support for a major US role in the conflict has strengthened over the past month, Biden’s negative approval rating has not budged, according to the AP-NORC survey. Few are convinced he can handle a crisis, and a majority think he lacks tenacity in the face of Russia.
Biden has promised voters he has the experience to navigate a complicated international emergency like the one currently unfolding in Europe, and his trip will be the final test of that proposition as he tries to maintain unity among the Western allies and to prepare for potentially even greater challenges.
At a time when it is essential to avoid cracks in what has been a largely unified Western response to Russia, the US president will seek to pressure important allies like Poland to back down from the idea of deploy a Western peacekeeping mission to Ukraine. It is an idea that the United States and some other NATO members consider too risky as it seeks to deprive Russia of any pretext to extend the war beyond Ukraine’s borders.
For his domestic audience, Biden should once again highlight the heroism of the Ukrainian military and volunteers who managed to hold off a massive Russian army. He will highlight those remarkable efforts — as well as the generosity of Poles and other allies on the front lines of the humanitarian crisis — as he redoubles his calls for Americans to stand firm against a Russian war that is fueling rising gas prices and adds to inflationary pressures in the United States
Madhani reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Matthew Lee, Hannah Fingerhut and Darlene Superville in Washington and Samuel Petrequin in Brussels contributed to this report.
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