Biden heads to Europe to keep allies united against Russia as bitter war in Ukraine takes its toll

Still, big questions hang over the talks in Germany and Spain, especially whether the united Western response to the conflict can be sustained – especially as leaders face the threat of a global recession and growing anger at home in the face of rising gas, food and other goods prices.

keep up the pressure

After several rounds of Western sanctions, Moscow is feeling the pinch. But as the fighting moved east away from Kyiv, Moscow’s additional gains led to growing US and European anxiety over the war’s trajectory.

At the same time, sanctions against Russian oil and gas have contributed to soaring energy prices, leading to problems at the gas pump. And the war’s effect on Ukraine’s grain exports has led to soaring food prices and the threat of a hunger crisis in poorer countries, a topic expected to be discussed this week.

The political fallout that followed led to questions about the leaders’ willingness to maintain the pressure campaign as the war continues.

“Ukraine is going to be big, and the big question is whether this group is going to be able to move sanctions forward,” said Matt Goodman, senior vice president for economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. .

Zelensky will call for more sanctions and more military assistance when he virtually presents to the G7 and NATO. And US officials have said Biden plans to unveil measures alongside other leaders to increase pressure on Russia to invade – although they declined to say what they would look like.

At the same time, Biden expects the group to discuss measures to stabilize energy markets, an issue that an official said would be at the “heart of discussions” at the castle in the Bavarian Alps where the G7 meet. reunites.

Find an endgame

At the start of the war, Western leaders rallied behind a sanctions regime to isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin. But months later, how to end the war — and potentially end the sanctions that help fuel inflation — has led to tensions.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who visited Kyiv for the second time last week, has positioned himself as one of Zelensky’s key allies and insists Ukraine “must win”. French President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, warned against “humiliating” Russia. And with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, he maintained open channels of communication with the Kremlin.

This has at times put them at odds with Biden, who accused Putin of genocide and war crimes while saying – at the end of his last visit to Europe – that he “cannot stay in power”. Biden’s defense secretary said after his own visit to Ukraine that Russia needed to be “weakened”.

Biden’s aides insist the unity he worked hard to cultivate remains intact.

“I mean, every country speaks for itself. Every country has concerns about what they’re willing to do or not do. But as far as the alliance goes, it’s really never been stronger and more viable than it is today,” said John Kirby, the strategic communications coordinator at the White House National Security Council.

These differences could lead to intense conversations this week, when leaders will inevitably have to discuss how the conflict will end – either through Ukrainian concessions, more concerted work to negotiate a ceasefire or just months of endless fights.

“I don’t think anyone can know for sure,” Kirby said this week when asked how long the war would last.

Ultimately, the greatest threat to Western resolve may be the fatigue of leaders and their populations in a war with no clear path to end it.

“It was clear from the start that it was going to get harder and harder over time, because war fatigue is coming,” Prime Minister Kaja Kallas of Estonia said earlier this month on CNN. “New crises are emerging, but also as we move forward, and if we impose sanctions, then first they’re going to hurt Russia, but then they’re also going to hurt our side.”

New members of NATO

There was a time when this week’s NATO summit in Madrid was seen as a potential welcoming party for new members of the alliance. But plans to speed up Sweden’s and Finland’s recent membership bids have been scuttled by roadblocks erected by Turkey and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The delay has led to frustration that what could have been a powerful signal for Putin has instead become bogged down in Turkish demands.

Erdogan has accused the countries of harboring “terrorist” organizations which he says threaten the security of his country, particularly Kurds in Turkey and elsewhere. He has sought the extradition of some supporters of a US-based opposition leader, whom he accused of botching the 2016 coup.

US officials remain confident that the two countries’ applications will ultimately be accepted. And they said Biden would likely discuss the issue on the sidelines of meetings with officials from various countries, including Turkey.

But they expressed little confidence that Erdogan’s concerns could be resolved by the end of the summit – dashing hopes of a big welcome in Madrid.

A new focus: China

At last year’s G7 summit on the Cornish coast in English, Biden pressed fellow leaders to insert tough new language condemning China’s human rights abuses in a final statement. Prior to the document, the group had sometimes heated conversations behind closed doors about their collective approach to China.

The topic can lead to tense conversations, as some European leaders don’t necessarily share Biden’s view of China as an existential threat. Still, the president has made it clear on several occasions that he hopes to convince his fellow leaders to take a tougher line. And Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has amplified the president’s repeated warnings about autocracies versus democracies.

“I think it’s fair to say that last year marked a significant shift from the G7, speaking for the first time about China’s coercive economic practices,” a senior administration official said this week. . “We expect that to be a bigger topic of conversation, if at all.”

Also at NATO, leaders will include China for the first time in the final “strategic concept” document, in particular the long-term challenges China poses to European security. For the first time, the summit will bring together leaders from Asia, including Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, as invited participants.

And Biden plans to redouble efforts to launch a global infrastructure partnership to advance low- and middle-income countries, another attempt to challenge China’s reach.

Climate commitments

G7 countries will also discuss their goal to reduce the use of fossil fuels and take meaningful action to address the climate crisis. But the race to ditch Russian natural gas in Europe and lower gasoline prices in the United States has upended those countries’ climate pledges — and they’re fast running out of time to meet their targets.

After the EU touted an accelerated clean energy transition in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, some European countries, including Germany and the UK, are switching back to coal to replace lost gas. And Germany is also looking to Africa for new gas supplies.

“Germany is starting to back down and Chancellor Scholz is considering a new deal with Senegal on gas supply. This is a worrying sign for G7 unity in May to move away from fossil fuels “said Alex Scott, head of the climate diplomacy and geopolitics program at Global Climate. E3G think tank, told CNN. “What is happening in Germany at the moment sends the wrong message.”

Likewise, Biden and his administration have made lowering gas prices their top priority at home, with Biden recently backing a gas tax holiday opposed by many in his own party. Scott also told CNN that she is seeking concrete commitments from the United States on phasing out coal, something it has struggled to do in previous climate talks.

“It’s time for the United States to put a new policy on the table,” Scott said. “It means clarifying when and how the United States will end its coal obsession. The change in government and the wave of climate ambition and goal-setting that brought about is kind of expired now.”

CNN’s Ella Nilsen contributed to this report.

Mary I. Bruner