Millions of refugees have fled the fighting, mostly across the border with Poland, and the war has threatened Ukraine’s wheat and barley crops.
With Europe’s future hanging in the balance, President Joe Biden will meet with key allies in Brussels and Warsaw this week as leaders try to keep Russia’s war on Ukraine from spiraling into a disaster. even bigger.
Biden embarks on a four-day trip on Wednesday that will test his ability to weather the continent’s worst crisis since World War II. There are fears that Russia could use chemical or nuclear weapons as its attack bogs down in the face of logistical problems and fierce Ukrainian resistance.
Humanitarian challenges are also increasing. Millions of refugees have fled the fighting, mostly across the border with Poland, and the war has jeopardized Ukraine’s wheat and barley crops, raising the possibility of increased hunger in the poor areas around the world.
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, said the president would coordinate with his allies military assistance to Ukraine and further sanctions against Russia. He added that Biden is working on long-term efforts to bolster defenses in Eastern Europe, where more countries fear Russian aggression. The president also aims to reduce the continent’s dependence on Russian energy.
“This war is not going to end easily or quickly,” Sullivan told reporters during a White House briefing on Tuesday. “For the past few months, the West has been united. The president is visiting Europe to make sure that we remain united.
Sullivan said Vladimir Putin’s references to nuclear weapons early in the conflict are “something we need to be concerned about,” adding that Biden would discuss with allies “potential responses” if the Russian leader takes that step.
Sullivan’s description of Biden’s trip was another sign that the crisis is entering a new and uncertain phase.
After the initial attack failed to overthrow the Ukrainian government, the war has become a relentless business for Putin, who relies on airstrikes and artillery that devastate civilian communities. Negotiations between Ukraine and Russia have not resulted in a ceasefire or a path to end the conflict, and the United States continues to rush weapons like anti-tank missiles towards Ukrainian forces.
The ripple effects of war are also spreading. Biden has warned that Russia could be planning cyberattacks that would affect American businesses, and he spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday to caution him against military or financial support from Russia. Meanwhile, a senior State Department official visited India this week shortly after that country decided to buy more Russian oil.
“This is one of those watershed moments for an American leader defining his legacy internationally,” said Timothy Naftali, presidential historian at New York University.
Biden’s first stop is Brussels, where he will attend back-to-back meetings.
NATO is holding a hastily organized emergency summit, where Biden is expected to reiterate his support for Article 5 of the alliance’s charter, which commits all members to collective defense in the event of an attack.
“I believe that the meeting of all NATO Heads of State and Government will provide us with a new platform to demonstrate our unity, our support for Ukraine, but also our will to protect and defend all NATO allies,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. told NBC’s “Meet the Press” show on Sunday. “And by sending this message, we prevent an escalation of the conflict into a full-fledged war between NATO and Russia.”
Biden will also attend meetings of the European Union and the Group of Seven, which includes the world’s wealthiest democracies.
He will then travel to Warsaw on Friday to meet with Polish officials to discuss the enormous humanitarian pressure caused by the Ukrainian refugee crisis. Biden is due to meet Polish President Andrzej Duda on Saturday.
Duda, whose country suffered a brutal Nazi occupation during World War II, compared Russian actions in Ukraine to Adolf Hitler’s infamous SS forces. Visiting Bulgaria on Tuesday, Duda said Putin’s army “behaves in exactly the same way”. He said he hoped those responsible for attacks on civilians would be brought before international tribunals.
Polish leaders have pushed for a Western peacekeeping mission to intervene in Ukraine, a step that the United States and other Western allies say could lead to a widening of the war. Polish leaders also want an increased military presence along NATO’s eastern flank.
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Sullivan said Biden’s trip to Poland is an important opportunity to “meet a frontline and very vulnerable ally.” Poland is also hosting a growing number of American troops, and Sullivan suggested Biden could visit them as well.
Last week at NATO headquarters in Brussels, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and his counterparts assessed the defenses to be put in place on the organization’s eastern flank, from Estonia north to passing through Latvia, Lithuania and Poland to Bulgaria and Romania on the Black Sea.
The goal is to deter Putin from ordering an incursion by any of the 30 allies, not just for the duration of the war in Ukraine, but in the future.
Putin demanded that NATO withdraw its forces to its eastern flank and stop expanding.
Sullivan said Biden, during his talks in Europe, “will work with allies on longer-term adjustments to NATO’s force posture.”
Biden’s visit to Poland follows Vice President Kamala Harris’ visits to Warsaw and Bucharest earlier this month. While Harris was in Poland, Duda called on the Biden administration to expedite visa procedures for Ukrainians who have family living in the United States so they can resettle in the United States at least temporarily.