President Joe Biden departs for Europe on Wednesday as tensions with Russia are at levels unseen since the fall of the Soviet Union more than 30 years ago.
The focus of Biden and other world leaders has been on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ongoing unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing security and humanitarian crises with the outbreak of war on NATO’s eastern doorstep.
The president is scheduled to be in Brussels on Thursday for a NATO summit, meetings with fellow G-7 leaders and a previously scheduled European Council summit. He will then travel to Poland, which has been receiving a flood of Ukrainian refugees at the same time NATO forces have been working to strengthen defenses against any expansion of Russian aggression beyond Ukraine.
Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, told reporters Tuesday to anticipate announcements related to further sanctions on Russia and efforts to provide Europe with additional energy security.
“Russia intended to accomplish three basic objectives in launching its unprovoked attack against Ukraine: first, to subjugate Ukraine; second, to enhance Russian power and prestige; and third, to divide and weaken the West,” Sullivan said at the White House. “Russia has thus far manifestly failed to accomplish all three objectives.”
The NATO summit is scheduled to feature all 30 member states.
Sullivan said Biden “will join our partners in imposing further sanctions on Russia and tightening the existing sanctions to crack down on evasion and to ensure robust enforcement. He will work with allies on longer-term adjustments to NATO force posture on the eastern flank.”
Even as the world leaders gathering in Brussels will be focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect the planning and implementation of overseas travel.
Shortly before she was set to brief members of the White House press corps along with Sullivan, Press Secretary Jen Psaki announced in a statement that she had once again received a positive PCR test as part of pre-travel preparations. It’s the second overseas trip of the Biden presidency that Psaki has missed because of COVID-19 issues, the first being the 2021 G-20 summit in Rome.
A bipartisan Senate delegation returned from Poland on Sunday, offering a prelude to what Biden may hear while he is in the country on Friday and Saturday.
“Poland, Germany and really all of our NATO allies in Europe have been heroic in their response. It was heartwarming to see how they have opened their hearts, doors and homes to the women and children, the elderly and infirm trying to make their way out of Ukraine for safety,” Texas Republican Sen. Cornyn said Monday. “Ukrainians are showing great courage, but one thing we heard is that they need more humanitarian relief and weapons to defend themselves and their country.”
The Biden administration has worked with allies to rally support for military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, but some of the requests from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his leadership have not been deemed to be in the best interests of U.S. security. Among those: the establishment of a no-fly zone that could lead NATO pilots into combat with Russia and an effort to transfer Polish MiG fighter jets to Ukraine that was going to require some kind of U.S. involvement.
The trip to Warsaw and potentially other destinations in Poland will be perhaps the most fraught since President George H.W. Bush’s travels in the summer of 1989, when he visited both Warsaw and the shipyards in Gdansk as the Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe were moving toward freedom and democracy.
“I spoke in front of the Solidarity Workers monument to an animated throng which packed and overflowed the square. There were thousands lining the street going into town, and estimates of up to 250,000 in the square. It was an emotional moment, with grown men and women crying,” Bush wrote in a 1998 book. “At the end of the day I had the heady sense that I was witnessing history being made on the spot, as the leaders from the regime and Solidarity came together.”
Sullivan said the current president planned to meet with U.S. forces now in Poland, where they are working with other NATO forces in defense of the alliance’s territory. The White House has made clear that Biden is not planning to travel beyond NATO borders and into Ukraine.
One deliverable that Biden would surely like to have at hand by the time meetings with European leaders get underway? A final agreement from Congress on halting permanent normal trade relations with Russia, as part of the international effort to end the country’s most-favored-nation status as a result of the invasion of Ukraine.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer told reporters Tuesday that he hopes to move forward this week, although Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden of Oregon and ranking member Michael D. Crapo of Idaho were still working to come up with an agreement on the language of a ban on Russian oil with Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va.
“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, and to advance our response on all three critical fronts that I’ve described: helping the Ukrainian people defend themselves, imposing and increasing costs on Russia, and reinforcing the Western alliance,” Sullivan said.
Ellyn Ferguson contributed to this report.