President Joe Biden went to Europe on Wednesday as he tried to keep NATO allies and other European partners united against Russian President Vladimir Putin and his invasion of Ukraine.
With fighting lasting nearly a month – and Ukrainian forces unexpectedly holding Russia back – Biden and other world leaders will try to hasten an end to the conflict.
They will be under pressure to announce new sanctions against Russia, humanitarian aid to refugees and further support for Ukraine’s military.
Putin and China will watch, with Ukraine’s fate – and Russia’s place in the world – hanging in the balance.
And while Biden wants a lot of attention this week, his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, also plans to talk to – and potentially press – Biden and other NATO leaders.
Whirlwind diplomacy exhibited
Biden will spend much of Wednesday traveling from Washington to Brussels, ahead of a whirlwind day of diplomacy in the Belgian capital the following day.
On Thursday, he plans to attend an extraordinary summit for all 30 NATO leaders, where he will discuss deterrence against Russia and “reaffirm our iron-clad commitment to our NATO allies,” according to the White House.
Biden will also attend a pre-planned meeting of the European Council – the political body of the European Union – and meet with leaders of the group of seven, or G-7, major industrialized nations.
During the meetings, Biden hopes to achieve “continued coordination and a comprehensive response” to Russia, the White House said.
Biden has made working at a slow pace with Europe a top priority, and at times he withheld sanctions – such as against Russian energy – for maintaining this unity show.
He has also tried hard to avoid a broader conflict, refusing to send US troops to Ukraine or support a NATO-enforced no-fly zone over the country.
Whether he will pressure allies to confront Russia more directly – by committing more troops to the region, providing even more provocative military assistance to Ukraine or otherwise directly assisting Kiev – remains to be seen.
One challenge he may face on Thursday is responding to Zelensky’s remarks to NATO leaders.
The Ukrainian leader has repeatedly called on the world’s attention with moving, sometimes blunt, appeals to national and international bodies. His direct demands sometimes go beyond the comfort levels of Biden and other leaders, and he has not refrained from naming and denigrating those he does not believe do enough to support Ukraine.
New sanctions and assistance are expected
Most major global summits are associated with major announcements or “deliveries”, often the result of months of negotiations.
But in this case, “the most important result is the trip and its symbolism,” said Stephen Sestanovich, a Russia expert and former ambassador to the Council on Foreign Relations.
But Biden and other leaders are also expected to announce a new “package of sanctions” against Russia, including “tightening existing sanctions to crack down on evasion and ensure robust enforcement,” U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Tuesday.
“One of the key elements of this communication will not only focus on adding new sanctions,” Sullivan said, “but on ensuring that there is a concerted effort to crack down on evasion, on sanctions violations, on any country’s attempts to help. Russia is basically undermining, weakening or circumventing sanctions. “
The president “will also have the opportunity to coordinate the next phase of military assistance to Ukraine,” Sullivan said.
And Biden will talk to leaders about “long-term adjustments to the position of the NATO force on the eastern flank,” Sullivan said, referring to the United States and other NATO countries sending additional troops to countries bordering Russia, such as Poland, Estonia , Lithuania and Latvia.
He will also announce a “joint action to improve European energy security and reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas,” Sullivan added without elaborating.
Focus on millions of displaced Ukrainians, American troops
In Brussels, “Biden will announce further US contributions” to help the 3.5 million Ukrainians who have fled the country and for the millions more who have been internally displaced, according to Sullivan.
On Friday, the president travels to Poland, where he will “engage with US troops” – he has deployed thousands there in response to the invasion – and on Saturday will meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda. Poland has received more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees.
“It’s the right place for him to go to be able to see troops, to be able to see humanitarian experts and to be able to meet with the front line and very vulnerable allies,” Sullivan said.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said this week that there was “no plans“for Biden to travel into Ukraine and that the White House” had not explored that possibility. “
Putin, China is watching
Biden said on Monday that “the one thing I’m sure about, knowing Putin quite well – as well as, I guess another leader could know each other – is that he figured he could split NATO. He thought never, NATO would remain loose – remain completely, thoroughly united. “
“And I can assure you,” he told a group of top commanders, “NATO has never been stronger or more united in its entire history than it is today, largely because of Vladimir Putin.”
In fact, Russia’s invasion has united NATO against it. And a month of crushing sanctions has paralyzed Russia’s economy and largely isolated Putin.
Whether world leaders in Brussels decide to increase pressure on Putin in a way that could further change Putin’s calculations – and bring an end to the war, perhaps by offering him a clear exit – could determine the length and course of the conflict.
But it is not clear that the declining number of options they have left can fundamentally affect Putin. Russian troops continue to kill Ukrainian cities and kill civilians, even though the Ukrainians have prevented them from claiming major victories and overthrowing the government in Kiev.
And it’s not clear what that exit could be. “Putin’s back is against the wall,” Biden said Monday.
The White House has warned that Russia could launch cyber attacks on critical infrastructure in the United States. Such an attack could come over the next few weeks, though not necessarily in direct response to Biden’s trip, according to Tom Graham, Russia’s expert at the Council. on foreign affairs.
And Chinese President Xi Jinping will also be watching. In a call last week, Biden warned him, according to the White House, about the consequences of providing assistance to Russia.
Sullivan told ABC News’ Elizabeth Schulze on Tuesday that since last week the United States “had not seen” China supply military equipment to Russia, as it had feared China would do.
The degree to which Biden is able to get European leaders involved in potential punishments for China may also determine whether Xi decides to support Putin or stay out of the fight.