Biden includes European allies as he confronts Putin over Ukraine

LONDON – When President Biden hosted a video call with European leaders about Ukraine this week, it had all the urgency of a Cold War crisis, with the specter of Russian tanks and troops threatening Eastern Europe. . But Mr. Biden has expanded the number of seats on his war council, adding Poland, Italy and the European Union to the familiar lineup of Britain, France and Germany.

The effort to embrace was no accident: After complaints from Europeans that they were blinded by the rapid US withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer and that France had been excluded from a new defense alliance with Australia, Mr. Biden has given up his path. involve allies in every step of this crisis.

For the Biden administration, it was a much-needed diplomatic reset. European officials said the United States acted with energy and ingenuity in orchestrating its response to Russia’s threatening moves. Since mid-November, it has conducted at least 180 high-level meetings or other contacts with European officials. Some are surprised to have their American counterparts speed dial.

Despite being dragged to his home turf by domestic problems and seen as a transitional figure in some skeptical European capitals, the president has emerged as a leader in the West’s attempt to confront with threats from Russian President Putin. U.S. officials say the administration’s emphasis on unity is largely aimed at discouraging Putin’s desire to use the crisis to disrupt NATO.

According to American officials.

“The concern here is ‘no surprise,’ ‘ said a concerned official.

The Russians, who want the West’s commitment that Ukraine will never join NATO, welcomed the US response on Thursday, saying there was “not much reason to be optimistic” and that the next step was unclear. What could be theirs.

In a phone call on Thursday, Biden told President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine that the United States and its allies would “respond decisively if Russia continues to invade Ukraine,” according to a statement. The White Houset, and that the United States is considering ways to help Ukraine’s economy.

The United States also called on the United Nations Security Council to hold an open meeting on Monday to discuss “Russia’s threatening behavior toward Ukraine.”

“This is not the time to wait and see,” Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said in a statement on Thursday.

The United States does not rely solely on diplomacy. It has put 8,500 troops on alert to be deployed to Eastern Europe, sent defensive weapons to Ukraine and is in talks to divert natural gas away from other suppliers if Russia cuts supply pipelines for Germany and other countries.

“We had a low score on trust and mutual respect last summer because of the breakdown of Afghanistan,” said Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German ambassador to Washington. Now, he said, “no one can complain that there isn’t a new sense of American leadership.”

Mr. Biden’s handling of the crisis is not without fault: His recent claim that a “small incursion” by Russia would trigger a different response to the West than an invasion infuriated Ukraine. anger and warn European governments, especially those bordering Russia. It requires a quick cleanup by the White House.

Europeans worry about Mr. Biden’s staying power, the return of former President Donald J. Trump and the determination of the United States, where Ukraine is not a crisis on the doorstep as it is for Europe. . Some believe Mr. Putin is exploiting the same perceived vulnerabilities on both sides of the ocean.

Ian Bond, a former British diplomat who is now head of the foreign policy department of the Center for European Reform, a research group in London, said: “He sensed weakness in Biden and certain political turmoil in Europe. “Germany has a new government that is standing, the elections in France, the UK are not in good shape, Europe is emerging from the pandemic. I think he sees Biden as a pretty weak transitional figure. “

Indeed, Mr. Putin is more of a driver of events than Mr. Biden. His aggressive tactics are forcing both Europe and the United States to join. And he shows little interest in striking a deal on Ukraine with anyone other than the president of the “other superpower.”

That proves the central role of the United States in ensuring the security of Europe.

It also means that regardless of suspicions about Mr. Biden in Moscow or European capitals, he will be the backbone of the Western response. The European says he has embraced that role with more enthusiasm than Mr. Trump or his former boss, President Barack Obama.

Mr. Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine and pressured the country’s president to investigate Mr. Biden, which he saw as his political rival. Mr. Obama did not see Ukraine as a core strategic interest of the United States even after the annexation of Crimea, prompting France and Germany to form a group that has been meeting periodically with Russia and Ukraine since 2014 to discuss how to contain the conflict. hostile action.

Gérard Araud, former French ambassador to Washington, said: “When the Ukraine crisis broke out in 2014, US policy was ‘Try not to get involved. “They outsource the handling of it to France and Germany.”

The White House effort partly reflects the bitter lesson of the tumultuous withdrawal from Afghanistan, as Europeans criticized the United States for not consulting with them, an accusation the White House is contesting. challenge.

Mr. Ischinger, who now chairs the Munich Security Conference, recalls an American official telling him at the time that the era had passed in which the United States considered itself a “European great power”, a nation Its active participation is crucial to the continent’s strategy. Balance.

“What we have witnessed over the past few weeks shows that this is an inaccurate assessment,” he said.

This time, American officials consulted with a range of groups covering the political and security apparatus of mainland Europe: the European Union, the European Commission, the Organization for Security and Cooperation. cooperation in Europe, and Bucharest Nine, an eastern NATO group. members.

“They learned a real lesson from Afghanistan,” said Ivo Daalder, a former US ambassador to NATO. “They’ve been phenomenally effective, in a way we haven’t seen in a long time, in interacting with allies.”

One challenge for Mr. Biden, according to experts, is the lack of a European leader to help pull the rest of the continent in. Such was the role of former German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Mr. Obama and President George W. Bush. That is the role former British Prime Minister Tony Blair played for Mr. Bush, with little success in Iraq, and for President Bill Clinton, with more success in Kosovo.

Britain’s current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is preoccupied with a scandal involving Downing Street parties during the pandemic. In any case, Britain’s departure from the European Union has stripped it of its traditional role as a bridge between Washington and Brussels, although it remains a central player in NATO.

Britain has attempted to play a strong role, shipping anti-tank weapons to Ukraine and drafting legislation that would allow it to impose sanctions on Russia should it launch an invasion. But it is motivated more by a desire to act independently after Brexit than to serve as a supporter for Washington.

France has also reinforced its position, when President Emmanuel Macron proposed sending troops to Romania to fortify NATO’s eastern flank. However, Mr. Macron faces an election in April and he has also asserted a more independent role for Europe in engaging with Russia. On Friday, he and Putin will talk by phone.

French diplomats say Mr Macron’s efforts should not be seen as an obstacle to the US because he is committed to any common European stance towards NATO, where it would eliminated with the Americans.

“Macron’s problem is Germany,” Mr. Araud said.

The new coalition government in Germany is being drawn in different directions, with the Greens and the Liberal Democrats tending to be tougher on Moscow, while the Social Democrats traditionally prefer to maintain commercial and diplomatic relations. Prime Minister Olaf Scholz, a member of the Social Democrats, is a distinct figure by far.

Jonathan Powell, who was Mr Blair’s chief of staff, said: “You can’t reassure Merkel, who can calm things down and keep things moving in the same direction.

Despite the possibility of disunity, diplomats point out that Europe, NATO and the US agree on two fundamental issues. No one plans to send troops into Ukraine. All agree on the importance of imposing sanctions on Russia, although Europeans, especially Germans, will likely balk at the most draconian measures because of the damage. mortgages on their economy.

European officials insist that Germany is willing to pay a substantial and unremarkable price, including the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that brings gas from Russia to Western Europe – and gives Putin a potentially valuable leverage. value.

Putin’s sequence of provocations – moving a large number of troops to Belarus, and holding large military exercises on the Ukrainian border, naval exercises in the Baltic Sea and even a military exercise planned battle off the coast of Ireland – attracted Europeans and Americans in a way no European or American leader could.

Mr. Araud said: “Putin is so radicalized by his demands and threats that it is impossible not to rank them with other countries. “You don’t have an alliance without a threat, and Putin is a threat.” Biden includes European allies as he confronts Putin over Ukraine

Fry Electronics Team

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