Joe Biden travels to Europe to keep pressure on Russia | Joe Biden

Joe Biden is heading to Europe in a bid to keep the pressure on Russia amid sanctions fatigue and divisions over energy sanctions among U.S. allies.

It will also, to some extent, be a victory lap for the US president’s success so far in keeping his allies and partners together in the face of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Biden will take part in an emergency NATO summit, a G7 summit and a European Council meeting on Thursday — all groups that widely welcome a return of American leadership and engagement in Europe after the nadir of the Donald Trump administration.

But increasing the pressure on the Kremlin as the atrocities in Ukraine escalate will be far more difficult than the concerted steps taken so far. There are fundamental divisions within the EU over whether to follow the US in imposing an embargo on energy imports from Russia, with Germany, which is heavily dependent on it, opposing it categorically. Chancellor Olaf Scholz argued that this would hurt Germany more than Russia.

Anticipating Biden’s trip, his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, made it clear that the president was not going to push the issue, aware that the implications for Germany and other European states are far more serious. than for the United States, which imported a very small amount of Russian oil.

Biden, Sullivan said, recognized “that some of our European allies and partners couldn’t follow suit and he wasn’t going to pressure them to do so.”

However, he said a set of sanctions would be announced on Thursday. Part of this will likely involve the United States catching up with Europe. The Wall Street Journal reported, for example, that Biden will announce measures targeted at members of the Russian State Duma. The United States could also expand its list of sanctioned Russian oligarchs, which is missing some of the names on the European and British lists.

Sullivan said the focus will be on tougher enforcement of existing measures. Part of Thursday’s announcement, he said, would be “a joint effort to crack down on sanctions busting, any attempt by any country to help Russia undermine, weaken or circumvent sanctions “.

This may mean more details on a joint task force to track down the hidden assets of the oligarchs, Putin’s circle and their extended families.

Another more difficult element of the European Council meeting will be an effort to forge a common front towards China, ahead of a scheduled EU summit with Xi Jinping next week. Biden wants Europeans to echo the American message that any supply of Chinese armaments to the failing Russian military campaign would have serious consequences for economic relations.

The NATO meeting will in theory be an easier affair. On the eve of the summit, the alliance announced that it would double the number of its deployed battlegroups, sending them to Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia, matching bilateral deployments already made by the United States, the United Kingdom and others in Poland and the Baltic. States. General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg said there would be further announcements on the eastern flank on Thursday.

Behind closed doors, leaders will have to devise plans to respond to a series of extreme eventualities, such as the use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons by a desperate Putin. Before boarding the Marine One helicopter on the first leg of his trip, Biden repeated his warning that chemical weapons, in particular, remain a serious threat.

There will also be a discussion of NATO’s long term plans in terms of deployments. Under a 1997 deal with Russia, the United States agreed not to permanently deploy its troops to frontline states. Since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, it has strengthened the American presence in Poland and the Baltic states, but in rotating deployments to honor the letter of this agreement. But the United States and its closest allies now view the deal as worthless, and the way is open to consider a permanent base, which the Baltics, in particular, have been calling for.

“We don’t have all the answers yet,” said Julianne Smith, US Ambassador to NATO. “Permanent parking could be a solution or persistent rotations is another option that could be on the table. At this point, what we need to do is have our military commanders give us the best possible advice and submit specific proposals to us.

At the root of these discussions will be the nagging insecurity of Eastern European states as to whether the United States would really come to their aid in the event of a Russian attack. Biden’s trip to Poland on Friday and Saturday will be partly to address that anxiety.

The president and the Europeans who will meet are perfectly aware that his predecessor questioned the American commitment to NATO, and that Trump could return to the presidency in 2025.

Robert Hunter, former US Ambassador to NATO, said: “The alliance, and in particular the United States, must also recognize, if only sotto voce for now, how the credibility problem has become serious and the need for her to rise to the top. of the long-term foreign policy agenda of the United States and NATO.

Mary I. Bruner