Biden trip set to project US-Europe unity vs. Putin
President Biden arrives in Europe on Wednesday with the aim of projecting U.S. solidarity with Europe against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine.
The president is expected to announce new sanctions against Russia with European partners, underscoring the administration’s strategy to act in lockstep with allies.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Biden’s trip to Europe is “to ensure we stay united, to cement our collective resolve” to help the Ukrainian people defend themselves.
Biden, who will travel to Belgium and then Poland to meet with U.S. troops, is also expected to announce increased military and humanitarian aid for Ukrainians.
Biden has also grown bolder in his criticism of Putin in recent days, calling him a “war criminal,” “murderous dictator” and “pure thug.” But the president has rejected U.S. military intervention and calls from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to impose a no-fly zone over the country.
At least 10 million Ukrainians have fled the country, and the United Nations has warned that civilian casualties are in the thousands amid Russia’s targeting of civilian areas.
While Putin has acknowledged international sanctions are harming the Russian economy, he has intensified Russia’s attacks in the invasion’s fourth week.
Biden on Wednesday ahead of his trip again warned he believes Russia may carry out a chemical weapons attack against Ukraine. The U.S. has ruled out taking preemptive action but says that such an attack would lead to a “severe price.”
Biden has rejected holding calls with Putin, withholding the top-tier international recognition and legitimacy inferred by such conversations. Instead, the president is having European and other leaders maintain contact with Putin, including France, Germany, Turkey and Israel.
Biden and Putin’s relationship is decades in the making, and their years of interactions have led Biden to claim to know Putin well.
“The one thing I’m confident, knowing Putin fairly well – as well as, I guess, another leader could know one another – is that he was counting on being able to split NATO. He never thought NATO would stay resolved, stay totally, thoroughly united,” Biden said on Monday.
Biden and Putin last spoke on Feb. 12 for about an hour, prior to Russia’s full invasion
Biden laid out his strategy to confront Putin as early as 2017, in the aftermath of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, in an article he co-wrote with Michael Carpenter, now the ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The article focused on unity among democratic allies and partners.
“To fight back, the United States must lead its democratic allies and partners in increasing their resilience, expanding their capabilities to defend against Russian subversion, and rooting out the Kremlin’s networks of malign influence,” Biden wrote in Foreign Affairs.
Marie Yovanovitch, who served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine before being forcefully recalled by former President Trump, described Biden’s strategy as prudent, but warned against rejecting any actions against Russia.
“We’ve seen just in the last three weeks that steps that previously had been off the table are not only on the table, but are being implemented,” she said in an interview with The Washington Post last week. “I’m thinking of the really strong economic sanctions. I think that much of the security assistance that we are providing Ukraine now probably wasn’t something that we had been thinking about two months ago, six months ago, for Ukraine, but now we are.”
Biden has come under criticism from Republicans, and some Democrats in Congress, for withholding powerful sanctions tools – so-called secondary sanctions that block other countries from dealing with Russia – and withdrawing support on a scheme to deliver Soviet-era fighter jets to Ukraine.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) argued that the U.S. has to make clear its participation in the Russia-Ukraine conflict will be proportional to tactics used by the Russians.
“So I don’t think the United States needs to draw specific red lines today. I think we just need to make clear to the Russians that our involvement in this war is going to increase if their tactics targeting civilians also increase,” he told NBC on Sunday.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) called on Biden to outline a clear plan while in Europe to further help the Ukrainians.
“President Biden should use the upcoming NATO summit to outline a plan to help Zelensky win with American and NATO weapons, intelligence, and humanitarian aid,” Sasse said ahead of Biden’s trip. “It’s time for the administration to stop self-deterring and outline a strategy to help get Ukraine what they need to win. Our goal should be simple: Zelensky wins and Putin loses.”
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a radio interview that the sanctions on Russia are having an impact but that “we could do more.”
“When I talk to the administration, and I’ve urged the president to talk to our allies, we’re going to need to talk about red lines and what are those red lines,” McCaul said.
“[Putin’s] threatened to use chemical weapons … he also has these short-range tactical nukes that are always part of their battle plan that we’re concerned could be launched as a provocative statement for NATO to stay out.”
P. Terrence Hopmann, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, criticized Republican partisanship as likely undermining efforts by the Biden administration to bolster Ukraine’s defense while seeking to avoid escalation with Russia.
The administration had earlier said it had withdrawn support for the plans to send war planes to Ukraine because the risk of escalation with Russia outweighed the advantage.
But The Wall Street Journal reported that the administration is sending to the Ukrainians Soviet-made air defense equipment that the U.S. secretly acquired decades ago.
“I think the Biden administration has wanted to do as much as possible, short of creating a direct confrontation between the United States and between NATO and Russia, and that’s required a great deal of subtlety,” Hopmann said.