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President Joe Biden arrived at NATO headquarters in Brussels Thursday to kick off his effort to rally military and EU allies to stay together in opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and offer energy solutions to a worried Europe.
He exited his presidential motorcade Thursday morning, ignoring shouted questions about the security situation in Ukraine.
Biden’s first step was a ‘family photo’ with members of the treaty alliance, where a grinning Biden was greeted by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emanuel Macron.
After shaking hands with Johnson, Biden went to shake hands with Turkish President Recep Erdogan, whose nation has been providing armed drones to the the Ukrainian military as it counters Russia’s invasion.
He then walked alongside Macron into the first session of the day for NATO, which is announcing it is expanding battle groups and beefing up its troop presence along Russia’s eastern flank.
Europe is aiming to strike a deal with Biden to secure additional U.S. liquefied natural gas supplies for the next two winters and wean the continent off it its dangerous addiction to Russian energy.
A major new deal to boost US gas shipments to Europe will be announced during the summit, three US officials familiar with the plan told the Washington Post.
Russia supplies 40 percent of the EU’s collective natural gas needs, 27 percent of its oil imports and 46 percent of coal imports.
Biden will also huddle with key allies in Brussels and Warsaw this week to talk through plans for imposing punishing new sanctions on Russia and dealing with an extraordinary humanitarian crisis.
The allies are also expected to develop a consensus on how they would respond if Russia were to launch a cyber, chemical or even nuclear attack.
President Joe Biden landed in Brussels on Wednesday evening to rally allies to stay together on the Ukraine and offer energy solutions to a worried Europe
Prime Minister Alexander de Croo of Belgium welcomed President Biden upon his arrival in Brussels. President Biden thanked the Prime Minister for Belgium’s robust support in the EU for sanctions against Russia and for ongoing coordination in providing security assistance to Ukraine, the White House said
Biden wants western allies to levy heavier financial sanctions on Russia for its invasion of the Ukraine but some of those nations, which are dependent on the Kremlin for their energy needs, have show reluctance to go as far as the United States wishes.
A new deal to boost US gas shipments to Europe could clear the path for allies to sign on to tougher sanctions.
‘A substantial topic of conversation – a major priority for both the President and his European allies – is to reduce the dependence of Europe on Russian gas, full stop’ National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Wednesday in a briefing with reporters on the flight to Europe.
He declined to offer specifics and said Biden will discuss it during his meetings with the European Union members.
He called it a ‘subject of intense back and forth’ over the past days and weeks. He said the U.S. would look for new ways to ‘surge’ liquid natural gas supplies to Europe.
U.S. exporters have already shipped record volumes of LNG to Europe for three consecutive months, as prices have jumped to more than 10 times higher than a year ago.
Leaders may also discuss a new demand from Moscow that countries pay in rubles for their Russian gas, a move some EU diplomats said could undermine existing EU sanctions by effectively unfreezing Russian assets.
President Biden in the Beast, leaving the Melsbroek military airport in Brussels
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Russia will seek payment in roubles for gas sales to ‘unfriendly’ countries, a move that sent European gas prices soaring on concerns it would exacerbate the region’s energy crunch.
Countries remain divided, however, on whether to sanction Russian oil and gas directly, a move already taken by the United States. An EU embargo would require unanimous approval from all 27 member states.
President Biden’s schedule for his European trip
THURSDAY: President Biden is in Brussels for the NATO summit, a Group of 7 meeting and a session with heads of state from the European Union.
FRIDAY: Biden heads to Poland
SATURDAY: Biden is in Poland where he will discuss the Ukrainian refugee situation and meet with President Andrzej Duda. He leaves for Washington D.C. in the evening.
In a draft of their summit conclusions seen by Reuters, the leaders will agree to ‘work together on the joint purchase of gas, LNG and hydrogen’ ahead of next winter, and coordinate measures to fill gas storage.
The European Commission said on Wednesday it was ready to lead negotiations pooling demand and seeking gas ahead of next winter, following a similar model to how the bloc bought COVID-19 vaccines.
Leaders will discuss that plan – as well as a proposed law for countries to fill gas storage ahead of winter – on Friday.
Biden arrived on a day when NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg talked up increased military deployments on its eastern flank along the Russian border, and warned that any use of chemical weapons by Russia would be a game changer.
He said any use of chemical weapons would ‘totally change the nature of the conflict.’
Stoltenberg also criticized Russia Wednesday for ‘continuing nuclear saber rattling’ that contradicts its own statements at the United Nations.
‘Russia should stop this dangerous irresponsible nuclear rhetoric,’ he told reporters a day before Biden is set to meet with NATO allies. ‘But let there be no doubt about our readiness to protect and defend allies against any threat anytime.’
‘I think I think that’s the most important message to convey that any use of chemical weapons is is absolutely unacceptable and will have far reaching consequences.’
And Stoltenberg added: ‘Russia must understand that it can never win a nuclear war.’
Air Force One carrying President Joe Biden arrives at Melsbroek military airport in Brussels
President Joe Biden and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo, left, talk to people after arriving at Brussels National Airport
Biden will meet with NATO, EU and G7 leaders on Thursday
Members of the 30-nation strong alliance have deployed four new battle groups, Stoltenberg said. They are deployed in Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, and Hungary.
Russia’s invasion ‘will have long-term consequences for our security,’ Stoltenberg said. He said there were now 40,000 forces under NATO command at a high level of readiness alert, along with 100,000 U.S. troops in Europe.
Biden enters his day of meetings with NATO, the European Union and the G7 with a packed agenda.
Ahead of his departure, Biden acknowledged it was a ‘real threat’ that Vladimir Putin might use chemical weapons in the Ukraine, a topic of concern for world leaders ahead of their NATO summit.
‘I think it’s a real threat,’ Biden told reporters ahead of his departure for Brussels.
Officials have been concerned that Putin will use more aggressive tactics and disruptive weapons as his invasion of the Ukraine reaches a stalemate.
The situation in the Ukraine is the main topic at Thursday’s NATO meeting, where Biden will rally western allies and announce a new round of financial sanctions against Putin‘s government.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will take part of the special summit, which was pulled together in a week, via video link as the Russian invasion of his country enters its fourth week.
Biden has called for the United States to lead a ‘new world order.’
‘We’re going to — there’s going to be a new world order out there, and we’ve got to lead it,’ Biden said on Monday. ‘And we’ve got to unite the rest of the free world in doing it.’
On the trip, Biden intends to shore up the NATO alliance as the war in the Ukraine threatens to settle in for the long haul. He’ll put pressure on the allies to continue financial sanctions, announce additional humanitarian assistance and could reveal a plan to increase U.S. boots on the ground in Eastern Europe.
‘Our goal is to weaken Russia’s hand, tactically, and strategically, and to strengthen Ukraine’s hand on the battlefield and at the negotiating table. We know this conflict has to be resolved diplomatically if we’re going to save lives,’ State Department spokesman Ned Price told CNN Wednesday morning of the trip.
He will also travel to Poland to meet with U.S. troops stationed there, review the situation with Ukraine refugees and meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda.
The trip will be heavy on symbolism, with the pictures showing a united front among the allies and a compassionate Biden meeting the displaced as Vladimir Putin continues to pound away at the Ukraine.
‘There will be hard days ahead in Ukraine — hardest for the Ukrainian troops on the frontlines and the civilians under Russian bombardment. This war will not end easily or rapidly,’ National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Monday in previewing the trip.
‘For the past few months, the West has been united. The President is traveling to Europe to ensure we stay united, to cement our collective resolve, to send a powerful message that we are prepared and committed to this for as long as it takes,’ he added.
Biden’s trip comes as the allies are pushing the boundries of what they can do to stop Putin.
Europe, which still needs Russian oil, is reaching the limits of the financial sanctions it can implement. And the West has also committed as much military assistance as it can – short of putting boots on the ground in the Ukraine.
President Joe Biden acknowledged it was a ‘real threat’ that Vladimir Putin might use chemical weapons in the Ukraine
President Biden headed to Brussels for meetings with NATO, the European Union and G7
Biden’s trip comes as the allies are pushing the boundries of what they can do to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will speak to NATO meeting via video link
Biden will start his trip Thursday in Brussels, where he attend emergency summit meetings of NATO, the European Union and the G7.
Poland said last week that it would formally submit a proposal for the peacekeeping mission in Ukraine at the Thursday summit.
‘I hope they understand what they are talking about,’ Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told staff and students at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations on Wednesday.
‘This will be the direct clash between the Russian and NATO armed forces that everyone has not only tried to avoid but said should not take place in principle.’
The Biden administration has appeared to rule that Poland’s proposal, saying they are committed to not putting U.S. troops on the ground in the Ukraine.
At a summit where the administration is promising ‘deliverables,’ not just talk, the first arms deliveries out of an $800 million package Biden announced earlier this month have begun to arrive.
It includes 800 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, and 100 armed drones, CNN reported.
The administration has also delivered most of the separate $200 million package Biden announced March 12. Officials are touting new announcements of material to support Ukraine at the summit.
Meanwhile, a slew of new economic sanctions will be aimed at trying to deter Putin.
‘It cannot be business as usual for Russia,’ Sullivan said on Monday.
The president will announce the U.S. will target 400 people, officials told the Wall Street Journal, including 328 Russian lawmakers in the Duma and other elites.
The United States has already announced a slew of sanctions against Putin himself, his inner circle, the Russian oligarchs and Russian businesses.
And though the Russian currency, the ruble, dropped down to being worth next to nothing and the nation was last week at risk of defaulting on its debt, sanctions have done little to change the Russian leader’s posture.
This week, the ruble stabilized and Russia was able to make interest payments on $117 million due on two bonds denominated in U.S. dollars. And while about half of Russia’s $640 billion in foreign reserves is frozen, it has been able to offset that by continued fuel sales to Europe amid a price spike in the cost of oil and gas.
Biden also announced earlier this month the U.S. would ban imports of Russian oil, natural gas and coal, though America doesn’t use much of those products.
The E.U. unveiled a plan to cut Russian gas imports by approximately two-thirds this year, but it’s unclear how quickly member nations will be able to accomplish that given their heavy dependence on Russian oil.
Sullivan said the U.S. would make new announcements about efforts to help European countries wean themselves off Russian energy.
Biden also may announce more U.S. troops wil be deployed to NATO countries in Eastern Europe to help ease worries among those nations that Putin’s invasion could spread, NBC News reported.
Sullivan previewed the announcement on Monday when he said Biden would announce the ‘next phase’ of military assistance to Ukraine during his trip.
‘He will work with Allies on longer-term adjustments to NATO force posture on the eastern flank,’ Sullivan said.
President Biden will work to keep allies in lock step during his trip to Europe
The fighting in the Ukraine is entering its fourth week – above a marke in Kharkiv that was destroyed by Russian missiles
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has warned sending a peace keeping mission to Ukraine could trigger ‘direct clashes’ between Russia and NATO
Russia’s offensive has now stalled on all fronts amid reports that Ukraine has started launching counter-attacks to push Putin’s forces back
Biden recently reviewed options for permanent increases in the number of U.S. troops in Eastern Europe, and Poland is among the possible locations, NBC News noted.
‘At the summit,’ the an administration official said, ‘we expect NATO leaders to review the alliance’s current deterrent and defensive force posture, especially in light of the deteriorated security environment caused by Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified further invasion of Ukraine.’
One fear among leaders to be addressed is Putin’s next move in the Ukraine.
With the invasion at a stalement, there is concern the Russian president will step up his game, possibly using chemical or even a small nuclear weapon. The Biden administration is also warning that cyber attacks could come.
‘Now Putin’s back is against the wall. He wasn’t anticipating the extent or the strength of our unity. And the more his back is against the wall, the greater the severity of the tactics he may employ,’ Biden told business leaders in Washington on Monday.
NATO leaders could announce the addition of a new chemical and biological weapons unit to the NATO Response Force to counter Russia.
American officials have expressed concern that Putin could use chemical weapons after the Russian Defense Ministry said Ukraine could make such a move, in what U.S. officials say could be a false flag operation to justify any moves by Moscow.
Russia has wielded chemical weapons in the past.
Moscow used the deadly Novichok poison in 2018 an attempt to assassinate a defector living in Salisbury, England. And it is suspected of using a similar poison against opposition leader Alexei Navalny in 2020.
Russia also offered diplomatic cover to Syrian use of chemical agents. It accused the West of being behind the 2017 attack on Khan Shaykhun with Sarin or similar nerve agent.
The invasion has not gone well for Russia.
Ukrainian forces remain in control of all major cities across the country except for the regional capital of Kherson, where counter-attacks are now underway in an effort to recapture it.
Counter-attacks are also underway to the west of the capital Kyiv, in Voznesensk in the south, and around Izyum in the north-east.
Ukraine’s generals believe Russian forces only have enough supplies to last three more days in the field, while Western experts have said Putin’s men will soon need to switch on to the defensive as their stockpiles run low.
The Kremlin has refused to rule out using nuclear weapons.
Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, was asked three times on CNN whether he could definitively rule out the possibility of the Russian leader pushing the button – and three times refused to give a straight answer.
Instead, Peskov said only that Russian doctrine allows Putin to use nukes see off ‘existential threats’ – raising fears he could justify using the weapons over Ukraine, having previously said the country poses a direct threat to the security of Russia.
John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, slammed Peskov’s rhetoric as ‘dangerous’ saying it is ‘not the way a responsible nuclear power should act’.
Kirby added that the US is keeping Russia’s nuclear arsenal – believed to be the world’s largest at 6,500 warheads – under constant surveillance and has not yet seen any indication that it is preparing to use the weapons.
Biden will also talk to E.U. leaders about China’s relationship with Russia. Biden spoke to Chinese leader Xi Jinping last week amid concerns Beijing could back the invasion.
E.U. leaders have a summit with Xi on April 1.
‘This will be an opportunity — Thursday — for the United States and our European partners to coordinate closely on what our message is,’ Sullivan said.
Thursday’s meetings will also reveal what Biden and the allies won’t do.
The U.S. has already ruled out Zelensky’s request for a no-fly zone over the Ukraine, arguing it could escalate the conflict into World War III.
People wait at Przemysl train station before continuing their journey back into war-torn Ukraine in Przemysl, Poland. Nearly two-thirds of the more than 3 million people to have fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion last month have come to Poland, which shares a 310-mile border with its eastern neighbor
Firefighters put out fire after Russians shelled a warehouse in Mykolaiv, Ukraine
A view of a shopping mall that was destroyed by a missile in Kyiv
Leaders may also discuss whether or not to push Russia out of the G20. Putin is expected to attend November’s gathering of the world leaders and there are some countries in the 20-nation alliance that would likely opposing removing Russia.
On Friday, Biden heads to Poland, where he will discuss the situation with Ukrainian refugees. Poland has taken in nearly 2 million of them.
‘He will announce further American contributions to a coordinated humanitarian response to ease the suffering of civilians inside Ukraine and to respond to the growing flow of refugees,’ Sullivan said.
While in Poland, he will hold an event related to refugees, which could include meeting with some of the Ukrainians who had fled their country but the details are still being worked out, The Washington Post reported.
Biden will also visit with American troops stationed in Poland as part of NATO forces and meet with President Duda.
What’s not on the table during this trip is a Biden stop in the Ukraine.
‘Any president of the United States traveling into 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 as we make considerations,’ press secretary Jen Psaki said this week. ‘It was a decision made about what would be most effective on the trip.’