A new task for Biden: preparing allies for a protracted conflict in Ukraine

WASHINGTON — When President Biden met his Western allies in Europe three months ago, the world was running after Ukraine, and NATO suddenly had a new objective — its old objective, which included Russia. There was talk of “crippling sanctions”. President Vladimir V. Putin was retreating, and talk of victory was in the air.

Mr Biden returns to Europe on Saturday night, at a time when everything about the war is tough. While Russia’s oil exports have declined sharply, its revenues are actually increasing, a function of rising fuel prices. After concentrating its efforts in the south and east of Ukraine, Russia is making incremental but significant gains, as Ukrainians, besieged, begin to abandon major cities: first Mariupol, and now, to the east, Svyarodonets.

So Mr Biden must prepare his allies for a serious conflict – a return to the “long, twilight conflict” that President John F. Kennedy talked about during the Cold War – with shocks and massive influx in food and energy markets. But imagined some six months ago amid inflation. Not surprisingly, some cracks are already emerging, as popular discontent, and the impending election, begins to worry Allied leaders.

White House officials say none of this will stop Mr Biden from squeezing Russia even more, and behind the scenes efforts over the past few weeks to reach agreements on new ways to isolate Moscow Are included.

Kirby, the former Pentagon spokesman who has moved to the White House to coordinate messaging on Mr Biden’s war objectives, told reporters on Thursday that “to target the Russian defense supply chain and crack down on piracy Expect new measures. of these unprecedented sanctions ”- appears to be a warning to China and India, who have continued to buy discounted Russian oil.

Mr Kirby argued that four months after the war, Moscow was beginning to hurt. “Because of our actions, Russia is struggling to make bond payments, approaching default,” he said. “And our measures will only tighten the screws and limit the revenue Mr Putin needs to fund this war.”

The White House also plans to announce new steps to enhance NATO’s capabilities, including a new “strategic concept” for the coalition, a first in a dozen years. Even at that time, there was talk of integrating Russia into Europe; Today it seems fictional.

Chief among the concrete steps would be the creation of a new “cyber rapid reaction” force that could take steps to help protect NATO members – and Sweden and Finland, two countries with pending applications – from cyberattacks intended to intimidate them. can take action against. Similar commitments have been announced before, but Anne Neuberger, the president’s deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technologies, said in an interview that NATO needs to draw on the expertise and intelligence of its most skilled operators in cyber conflict. need to.

“We have recognized the need for a virtual capability to rapidly respond to an incident if a colleague experiences a significant cyberattack and seeks support,” Ms Neuberger said on Friday. “It really reflects the lesson learned from the Russia-Ukraine scenario – which is that if you prepare in advance, and exercise beforehand, you know how to react faster.”

But the issue to come will be how to deal with Mr. Putin, a time Russia has been transformed from a fellow European power to a pariah state. US officials say their separation will deepen. But when French President Emmanuel Macron said in May that the West should resist Mr. Putin’s “temptation of humiliation”, it was one of the first public signs of a crack in the fundamental strategy of how far to push the Russian leader, The lack of sending NATO troops into battle – a move that Mr Biden and other NATO leaders say they have no intention of.

“Compared to the March visit, Biden faces an increased degree of trade-offs between domestic and foreign policy objectives,” said Richard Fontaine, chief executive officer of the Center for a New American Security, Washington research group. Told. “Their priority will be to increase pressure on Russia and aid Ukraine, but to do so when the West is concerned about oil and food prices, its remaining weapons stockpile and a war that has no end.”

For now, Mr Biden is under little political pressure to back home. Much of the debate about how much to turn up the heat on Mr Putin without provoking a major escalation in the war takes place behind closed doors among his staff.

But there are concerns that rising gas prices and the cost of keeping Ukraine armed and fed will begin to dampen enthusiasm, especially if Mr Putin makes good on recent threats to limit gas supplies to Europe in the fall. Mr. Fontaine said: “All the leaders they meet are in the same general dilemma, and elections are due in the United States and elsewhere. Western unity is high, support for Ukraine is still very solid and that of Russia.” There is a genuine desire to protest.”

But he also said that the summits “demonstrate how sustainable the various efforts will be as the war itself will end.”

It is the new, grinding nature of the conflict that separates these two summits – a meeting of the Group of 7, a gathering of the world’s wealthiest large democracies, Schloss Elmau in Germany and then NATO, starting Wednesday in Madrid. Meeting with – those people have gone before.

Only two months earlier, Americans were openly talking about a victory over the Russians, and there was a reasonable-than-expected expectation that Mr. Putin’s forces would be forced to retreat to their positions before the February 24 offensive. At the end of his final speech on that trip, in Warsaw, after meeting refugees who had fled Poland across the border, Biden said this about Putin: “For God’s sake, this man can’t stay in power.”

White House aides immediately said the United States was not seeking regime changes like they scrambled a month later, when Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III spoke very clearly of America’s strategic objectives, saying, “We want to see Russia weakened to the point that it cannot do the kind of things it did in attacking Ukraine.” Is.”

Mr Biden is now more cautious in his public tone, even if his goals remain fundamentally unchanged. The question is whether he can begin to shift the Allies from a crisis response to a sustained response to aggression, knowing that spending will increase and pressure will build as Mr. Putin tries to use every weapon at his disposal – such as limiting gas exports and continuing to block Ukrainian grain exports – to gain an advantage over their opponents.

“It is natural for people and governments to lose interest in conflicts as they progress,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmitro Kuleba said. written in foreign affairs this month. After the fall of Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi “the world stopped paying attention to the war in Libya”, he later added, and “separated from Syria, Yemen and other ongoing conflicts that once generated front-page news.” used to do.” He said the same thing happened after Russia annexed Crimea.

“Agreement with Russia may seem attractive to some abroad, especially as the cost of the war rises,” he concluded, adding that the only way out was “a complete and total Ukrainian victory”.

In public, everyone would agree. Although Mr Biden won’t say much about it during the summit, debate within his own administration about what to send and what to keep at home replays every week in the Situation Room.

Mr Biden, allies say, is constantly weighing whether new weapons – like the advanced artillery that just arrived on the battlefield or the advanced drones the White House is now considering sending – will escalate the war too quickly and Mr Putin Will give one more justification. for Vendetta. But he also wants to make sure Mr Putin is losing ground.

Hovering over two meetings would be a dangerous moment for the global economy. Inflation has soared in the United States and Europe, driven by the supply-chain disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic; Increase in consumer demand as economies reopen; And, in recent months, the Russian invasion has led to a rise in food and energy prices. Rapid price hikes have hurt workers and families in the Group of 7 countries and worsened the positions of their leaders in elections – particularly Biden’s.

For all their calls for unity, leaders will be hard pressed to find quick and concrete ways to help address that economic and political pain. They are set to discuss infrastructure investments and other ways to untangle global supply chains; new moves by China to counter trade practices that US leaders and others call predatory; and a range of issues surrounding inflation. But everyone fears that a hike in interest rates could be the beginning of a recession.

Perhaps most urgent for Mr Biden, leaders are expected to discuss ways to lower global oil prices – and with them, prices for drivers at gasoline pumps – including possible changes to how European countries have treated Russia. Has sought damage to the oil export business of

Leaders are expected to spend significant time discussing global agriculture and how to increase the world’s food supply, as the war cuts off access to vital sources of nutrition for rich and poor countries alike . So far, the Biden administration’s efforts to find a way out of Ukraine for its agricultural products have failed. Russia is doing everything it can to tighten the noose, in what appears to be President Volodymyr Zelensky’s attempt to plunge the country into economic collapse.

For European allies, keeping Ukraine, while involving Russia, is a mission that was barely discussed when the allies met a year ago. “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine underscores a central challenge to American engagement with key allies and partners,” said Ali Wynne, author of “America’s Great-Power Opportunity,” to examine the changing nature of great-power competition. A new book.

He defined Mr Biden’s challenge as “a permanent reconciliation of short-lived unity resulting from reactive trauma, translated as arising from positive objectives”.

Jim Tankersley Contributed reporting from Innsbruck, Austria.

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