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A New Task for Biden: Readying Allies for a Long Conflict in Ukraine

WASHINGTON — When President Biden met his Western allies in Europe three months ago, the world rallied behind Ukraine and NATO suddenly saw a new goal: its old goal of enclosing Russia. There was talk of ‘crippling sanctions’. President Vladimir V. Putin withdrew 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 more difficult. While Russia’s oil exports have fallen sharply, revenues have actually risen as a result of rising fuel prices. After concentrating its efforts in southern and eastern Ukraine, Russia is making gradual but significant gains as the encircled Ukrainians begin to give up key cities: first Mariupol and now, to the east, Sievierodonetsk.

So Mr. Biden must prepare his allies for a harrowing conflict — a return to the “long, dim battle” President John F. Kennedy spoke of during the Cold War — amid shocks to food and energy markets and inflation at a scale few thought six months ago. Not surprisingly, a few cracks are already emerging as popular discontent and the upcoming elections start to worry Allied leaders.

White House officials say none of this will stop Mr Biden from pressuring Russia even harder, and in recent weeks there have been behind-the-scenes efforts to agree on new ways to isolate Moscow.

John F. Kirby, the former Pentagon spokesman who has moved to the White House to coordinate coverage of Biden’s war objectives, told reporters on Thursday that they can expect new measures to “address and advance Russia’s defense supply chain.” to crack down on the evasion of these unprecedented sanctions” – ostensibly a warning to China and India, which have continued to buy Russian oil at a discount.

mr. Kirby argued that Moscow started to hurt four months after the war. “Because of our actions, Russia is struggling to make bond payments, leaving it close to 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 bolster NATO’s capabilities, including a new “strategic concept” for the alliance, the first in 12 years. At that time there was still talk of integration of Russia into Europe; today that seems fantastic.

The most important of the concrete steps will be the creation of a new “rapid cyber-response force” that can intervene to protect NATO members – and Sweden and Finland, the two countries with pending applications – from staged cyber-attacks designed to intimidate them. . Similar pledges 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 should leverage the expertise and intelligence-gathering of its most skilled operators in cyber conflict.

“We have recognized the need for a virtual capability to quickly respond to an incident if an ally experiences a significant cyberattack and requests support,” Ms Neuberger said on Friday. “It really reflects the lessons learned from the Russia-Ukraine scenario — that is, if you prepare in advance and practice beforehand, you’ll know how to react quickly.”

But the looming question will be how to deal with Mr Putin at a time when Russia has been transformed from a European co-power into a pariah state. His isolation will deepen, US officials say. But when French President Emmanuel Macron said in May that the West must resist “the temptation of humiliation” from Mr Putin, it was one of the first public signs of a breakdown in fundamental strategy to push the Russian leader, instead of sending NATO troops into battle — a move Mr Biden and other NATO leaders say they have no intention of taking.

“Compared to the March trip, Biden faces an increased level of trade-offs between domestic and foreign policy objectives,” said Richard Fontaine, the chief executive of the Center for a New American Security, a research group in Washington. “His priority will be to increase pressure on Russia and aid to Ukraine, but to do so when the West is concerned about oil and food prices, remaining arms stocks and a war with no end in sight. ”

For now, Biden faces little political pressure at home to pull out. Most debates about how much Mr Putin’s fire should be increased without provoking a major escalation in the war take place behind closed doors under his staff.

But there are concerns that rising gas prices and the cost of keeping Ukraine armed and fed will dampen enthusiasm, especially if Mr Putin agrees to recent threats to cut gas supplies to Europe in the fall. Mr Fontaine noted: “All the leaders he will meet are in the same general dilemma, with elections coming up in the United States and elsewhere. Western unity is great, support for Ukraine is still very solid and the desire to resist Russia is real.”

But he also said summits “show how sustainable the various efforts will be as the war itself grinds away.”

It is the new, harrowing nature of the conflicts that sets these two summits apart – a meeting of the Group of 7, a gathering of the world’s richest major democracies, at Schloss Elmau in Germany and then NATO, which begins Wednesday in Madrid – of those that have gone before.

Just two months ago, Americans spoke openly of victory over the Russians and their reasonable-sounding hopes that Putin’s forces would be forced to retreat to the positions they held before the February 24 invasion. At the end of his last speech on that trip, in Warsaw, after visiting refugees who had fled to Poland across the border, Mr Biden said of Mr Putin: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”

The White House aides immediately said the United States did not want to bring about regime change, just as they were muddled a month later when Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III spoke closely, but too bluntly, of America’s strategic objectives, said: “We want to see Russia weakened to the extent that it is unable to do the kinds of things it did when invading Ukraine.”

Mr Biden is now more cautious in his public tone, even if his goals remain fundamentally unchanged. The question is whether he can move allies from a crisis response to a sustained response to the invasion, knowing that costs will mount and pressure will mount as Mr Putin tries to use every weapon at his disposal – such as limiting of gas exports and continue to block Ukrainian grain exports – to influence its opponents.

“It is only natural for people and governments to lose interest in conflicts as they drag on,” Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said. wrote in Foreign Affairs this month. “The world stopped paying attention to the war in Libya” after Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi fell, he later added, and “broken away from Syria, Yemen and other ongoing conflicts that once made headlines.” The same happened after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, he said.

“Compromising with Russia may seem tempting to some abroad, especially as the cost of the war mounts,” he concluded, saying the only way was “a complete and total Ukrainian victory.”

In public, everyone will agree. While Mr Biden won’t say much about it at the summits, the debate within his own government about what to send and what to keep at home plays in the Situation Room every week.

Aides say Biden is constantly weighing whether new weapons — such as the advanced artillery that has just arrived on the battlefield or the sophisticated drones the White House is now considering sending — would escalate the war too quickly and give Putin another justification for retaliation. . But he also wants to make sure that Mr Putin loses ground.

If you hover over the two meetings, this is a dangerous moment for the global economy. Inflation has spiked in the United States and Europe due to the supply chain disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic; a surge in consumer demand as economies reopen; and, in recent months, a spike in food and energy prices as a result of the Russian invasion. Rapid price increases have hurt workers and families in the Group of 7 countries and eroded the position of their leaders in the polls, especially Mr. Biden.

Despite all their calls for unity, leaders will struggle to find quick and concrete ways they can work together to alleviate that economic and political pain. They’re going to talk about investing in infrastructure and other ways to unravel global supply chains; new steps to counter China’s trade practices that US leaders and others are calling predatory on an international scale; and a range of inflation issues. But everyone fears that rate hikes could herald a recession.

Perhaps most urgently for Mr Biden, leaders are expected to discuss ways to lower global oil prices — and with them, prices for gas-pump drivers — including possible changes in how European countries have attempted harm Russian oil export activities.

Leaders are also expected to spend a lot of time discussing global agriculture and how to boost global food supply as the war cuts off access to critical food sources 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 what it can to tighten the noose in what appears to be an attempt to push President Volodymyr Zelensky’s country into economic collapse.

For Europe’s allies, keeping Ukraine afloat while keeping Russia in check is a mission barely discussed when the allies met a year ago. “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine underscores a central challenge to US engagement with nuclear allies and partners,” said Ali Wyne, the author of “America’s Great-Power Opportunity,” a new book examining the evolving nature of competition between major powers.

He defined Mr Biden’s challenge as “translating short-term unity born of reactive shock into lasting cohesion, springing of affirmative ends.”

Jim Tankersley contributed reporting from Innsbruck, Austria.

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