When President Biden met with his Western allies in Europe three months ago, the world rallied around Ukraine, and NATO suddenly had a new sense of purpose — its old goal, to contain Russia. We were talking about “crippling sanctions”. President Vladimir V. Putin was in retreat and rumors of victory were in the air.
Now Mr Biden is returning to Europe – for a Group of 7 summit of the world’s richest major democracies in the German Alps on Sunday and Monday, followed by a NATO gathering in Madrid – at a time when everything concerning war is more difficult.
While Russia’s oil exports have fallen precipitously, its revenues have increased, due to soaring fuel prices. After concentrating its efforts in southern and eastern Ukraine, Russia is making incremental but significant gains as the encircled Ukrainians begin to abandon key cities: first Mariupol, and now, in east, Sievierodonetsk.
Mr Biden must therefore prepare his allies for a bitter conflict – a return to the “long twilight struggle” of which President John F. Kennedy spoke during the Cold War – amid shocks in food and energy markets and inflation. in large scale. few imagined six months ago. Unsurprisingly, a few cracks are already emerging as popular discontent, and the upcoming elections, begin to worry Allied leaders.
White House officials say none of this will deter Mr. Biden from squeezing Russia even tighter, and the past few weeks have brought behind-the-scenes efforts to reach agreements on new ways to isolate Moscow.
The White House also plans to announce new measures to boost NATO’s capabilities, including a new “strategic concept” for the alliance, the first in a dozen years. At the time, there was still talk of integrating Russia into Europe; today it seems fanciful.
The looming question will be how to deal with Mr. Putin, at a time when Russia has been recast from another European power into a pariah state. His isolation will deepen, according to US officials. But when French President Emmanuel Macron said in May that the West must resist the “temptation of humiliation” of Mr Putin, it was one of the first public signs of a breakdown in the fundamental strategy of know how far to push the Russian leader.
“Compared to the March trip, Biden faces an increased degree of trade-off between domestic and foreign policy goals,” said Richard Fontaine, chief executive of the Center for a New American Security, a Washington-based research group. “His priority will be to increase pressure on Russia and help Ukraine, but to do so when the West worries about oil and food prices, its remaining arms stockpiles and of a war that shows no end in sight.
Russian forces launched more than 45 missiles on Saturday as the war entered its fifth month, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who said he was attending the summit on Monday. He also renewed his request for the United States and its allies to provide more advanced weapons.
“Ukraine needs more armed assistance, and that air defense systems – the modern systems that our partners have – should not be in training areas or storage facilities, but in Ukraine, where they are needed now,” Mr. Zelensky said in his late-night address. Saturday. “More needed than anywhere else in the world.”
It is the new and gritty nature of the conflict that differentiates these two summits from those that preceded them.
Just two months ago, the Americans were openly talking about the victory over the Russians and the reasonable hope that Mr. Putin’s forces would be forced to fall back to the positions they held before the February 24 invasion. Mr. Biden is now more cautious in his public tone, although his goals remain fundamentally unchanged.
The question is whether he can begin to move his allies from a crisis response to a sustained response to the invasion, knowing that the expenses will increase and the pressure will increase as Mr Putin tries to use all the weapons at his disposal – such as limiting gas exports and continuing to block Ukrainian grain exports – to exert leverage over his adversaries.
Mr. Biden, his aides say, is constantly assessing whether new weapons would escalate the war too quickly and give Mr. Putin another justification for retaliation. But he also wants to make sure that Mr. Putin loses ground.