Good political cartoons are invaluable in telling you what’s really going on beneath the surface. And as US President Joe Biden En route to Poland from Brussels – scene of a three-summit triumph – cartoonist Kroll delivered a smash hit in Belgian daily Le Soir.
The aged and disheveled Biden is strapped into his airplane seat by aides and asks, “How many peaks today?” The answer is terse: “Poland, President, that’s all.” Then the President asks, “And we’re not going to Ukraine ?
The little sketch tells us that for all the strong symbolism of the united EU-US resistance to Putin’s Russia, and for all the bridge building President Biden is doing after Donald Trump’s wrecking ball, these tensions between Europe and the US never are far from the surface.
This was Joe Biden’s third visit to Europe since taking office in the White House last year – not a bad score considering Covid restrictions.
It was also by far his most action-packed stint while gracing three summits: that of the 30-nation Western NATO Defense Alliance; the richest G7 nations in the world; and finally the gathering of the 27 member states of the European Union.
Of course, Ukraine, in all its myriad aspects, was the key issue at all high-level meetings.
And it is true that after the harrowing, hugely damaging Trump years, the US is regaining strength in this time of war with its commitment to European security.
That was President Biden’s core message, and it was repeated with him Summit visits in Brussels on Thursday and his flying visit yesterday to Poland, now home to two million Ukrainian refugees.
In this country we know about the power of symbols to carry a message home. In the face of Russia’s brutal and illegal attack on Ukraine, this determined demonstration of Western unity was of unique importance. It is, more broadly, an attack on democracy and human rights on a grand scale.
President Biden’s visit also had a practical aspect related to energy security and defense cooperation. He offered the European Union access to US natural gas and hydrogen supplies.
This is a help for the EU – especially Germany and Italy – in trying to break away from the heavy dependence on Russian energy. But this will take strong political determination and a lot of time to make it happen, and we also have to keep in mind that the US promises on things like LNG on their own will take time, and in some cases big changes, to bear fruit.
By far the greatest takeaway from President Biden’s European trip was the blunt warning that any Russian chemical attack on Ukraine would be met “in kind” by NATO.
Perhaps he didn’t need to elaborate, and the vagueness of a “proportionate answer” was probably intentional.
Still, it remains clear that the US is very reluctant to get too involved in Ukraine lest it provoke a major war with nuclear power Russia.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Eastern European countries on the frontline are deeply frustrated by the White House’s continued outspoken refusal to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
For those same frontline countries, Poland and the Baltics, Mr. Biden’s chemical weapons warning was a welcome change of tone. Still, the impact of the relationship damage wrought in the Trump era is hard to banish in three trips and the symbolism of this last one.
For now, the European Union has no choice but to resolutely break away from its dependence on Russian energy and business ties.
But how sustainable the steps towards Washington will be remains to be seen.
France, which secures 70 percent of its electricity from its own nuclear industry, still wants the EU to avoid over-reliance on a country outside its membership.
That certainly includes the US and would not preclude strong ties with Russia in an ideal non-Putin world.
The horror of Trump regaining the US presidency in the 2024 election is seen as a real possibility in EU circles.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who is seeking re-election in two weeks in the first round, advocates the “EU’s strategic sovereignty”, largely independent in the areas of food and energy, technology and defence. To be fair to President Macron, he insists that all of this should complement rather than compete with NATO. That certainly injects a note of realism.
Symbolism aside, the two-day meetings showed that the EU is far from unanimous on the details of its approach to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Many of the 27 EU members have competing, if not conflicting, priorities.
The old Eastern Bloc and Central and Eastern European countries want tougher and faster sanctions against Moscow, fearing that Western sanctions have failed miserably to force Putin to negotiate.
But Chancellor Olaf Scholz has rejected Eastern European calls for tougher measures. He argues that sanctions against Russia should do much less harm to the countries that impose them. Germany’s economy would crash after an immediate ban on Russian energy.
The EU in general is also heavily dependent on Russian coal, gas and oil, which is the main problem.
As the Russian attacks intensify in brutality, Western leaders face tougher choices and unity is severely tested.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/biden-wows-europe-at-three-summits-but-those-trump-era-eu-us-tensions-still-persist-41488975.html Biden wows Europe at three summits, but Trump-era EU-US tensions linger