The White House has ruled out Biden traveling to Ukraine himself after leaders there said it would be a powerful symbol amid the war. Instead, he will publish his most direct efforts for Western unity during the war so far, rallying his counterparts at a critical moment in the crisis.
Military officials say the weeks-old Russian invasion is at an impasse, raising fears about how Putin will proceed. Among the topics leaders are due to discuss this week is how to react if the Russian president decides to use nuclear or chemical weapons or launch a massive cyberattack.
“Now Putin has his back against the wall. He did not anticipate the extent or strength of our unity. And the more his back against the wall, the greater the severity of the tactics he can employ,” Biden warned during of his remarks to business leaders before leaving Washington.
Biden seeks to urge his allies into further action against Russia
Biden hopes to emerge from an intense day of meetings Thursday with new actions to announce alongside his partners: new sanctions against Russia, measures to cut its oil and gas profits, or new announcements of military aid or financial to Ukraine.
He plans to impose sanctions this week on hundreds of Russians serving in the country’s lower legislature, an official with knowledge of the announcement said, triggering what is expected to be a slew of new measures to punish Russia for its war in Ukraine.
The United States had already sanctioned some members of the body, but this week’s announcement will add to the list.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said a day before Biden’s departure that the president would make a series of new announcements, including “joint action to strengthen European energy security and finally reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas”, as well as “longer”. – long-term adjustments to the posture of NATO forces on the eastern flank.”
Biden will also make new human rights pledges “to respond to the growing flow of refugees” from Ukraine.
And Sullivan said a new sanctions package would be unveiled on Thursday “in conjunction with our allies.”
“One of the key elements of this announcement will focus not only on adding new sanctions, but on ensuring a joint effort to crack down on evasion, evasion of sanctions, any attempt by any country to help Russia undermine, weaken or circumvent sanctions,” he said, calling it “an important part of this next phase.”
Even a Polish proposal to establish an international peacekeeping force in Ukraine, which Warsaw is expected to raise at Thursday’s meeting, has been met with skepticism by US officials, who say Biden is opposed to any scenario that pits American troops directly to the Russians.
Yet there are still some elements for leaders to embrace. The White House and European officials have spent the past week in intensive talks to develop a menu of options, and Biden discussed the summit with his counterparts in the UK, France, Germany and Italy on Monday.
“They can do several things. One, they can open the tap. The guns flow. But the tap can be bigger. It can be more open. There can be more things in there,” said William Taylor, a former US ambassador to Ukraine.
“All the types of things that we talk about in terms of anti-aircraft, air defence, anti-armour, the Stingers, all of that can come in. That opening needs to be wider. That’s number one. Number two, tighten the noose. There are still sanctions that are not in place yet.”
This includes expanding the list of Russian banks cut off from the SWIFT international banking system, imposing sanctions on more Russian oligarchs or politicians, or taking further steps to cut off Russia’s energy profits.
Biden announced earlier this month that the United States would ban imports of Russian oil, natural gas and coal, although these products represent only a small portion of American energy consumption. A European movement in the same direction would have much more impact.
The White House has worked with other major oil and gas producing nations to divert supplies to Europe, and the European Union has announced steps in conjunction with Biden to reduce its dependence on Russian energy. The topic is expected to be the subject of conversations at this week’s summits in Brussels.
Biden unlikely to visit Zelensky as diplomacy intensifies
Zelensky recently indicated that he was ready to consider certain concessions to Russia to help end the violence, including a policy of neutrality – albeit underpinned by strong security guarantees – raising more questions about the state of talks and specific elements of any peace agreement that may be under consideration.
NATO leaders discussed whether and how Zelensky should attend this week’s summit. Ukraine is not a member of NATO, which has allowed the United States and other members to set limits on how far they are willing to go to defend it. Yet Zelensky has proven to be a powerful international voice and leaders are aware of his response to their decisions.
Since last month, Zelensky has asked Biden to visit Kyiv, suggesting it would be a dramatic show of support. But the option was never explored at the White House.
“Any president of the United States going to a war zone requires not only security considerations, but also an enormous amount of resources on the ground, which is always a factor for us when we think,” said this week press secretary Jen Psaki. “It was a decision made on what would be most effective during the trip.”
Ukrainian officials have said Biden could show his support in other ways.
“We want him to come to Ukraine, but unfortunately that’s not the case this time,” Igor Zhovkva, deputy chief of Zelensky’s office and his chief diplomatic adviser, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour this week.
“We are grateful to the American President for the level of resistance he is offering now. Really – it is a clear sign of support, not only politically and in words, but in terms of military equipment, in terms of weapons and ammunition, under penalty conditions.”
Still, Zhovkva said leaders at this week’s summit could do even more to provide Ukraine with what it needs to support the battle against Russia, including anti-missile and anti-aircraft systems. and fighter planes. And he said Biden’s example would be most important as the world looks to him for leadership.
“This is where the political position, the political will of the United States matters,” Zhovkva said. “We know which countries have this weapon. Sometimes they look at the United States, they look at the position, they start playing ping-pong. Again, the will and the courage of the American president is what matters now. “