Biden, Western allies open 1st of 3 summits on Russian war

BRUSSELS (AP) — U.S. President Joe Biden and Western allies opened the first of three summits Thursday focused on increasing pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin over his war in Ukraine while tending to the economic and security fallout spreading across Europe and the world.

Biden and the leaders of other NATO countries met at the alliance’s headquarters where they posed for a group photo memorializing the urgent gathering before retreating behind closed doors for their summit, which was expected to last several hours.

Over the course of Thursday, the European diplomatic capital is hosting an emergency NATO summit as well as a gathering of the Group of Seven industrialized nations and a summit of the 27 members of the European Union. Biden will attend all three meetings and plans to hold a news conference at the end of the day.

Biden arrived here late Wednesday with the hopes of nudging allies to enact new sanctions on Russia, which has already seen its economy crippled by a steady stream of bans, boycotts and penalties over the past four weeks.

While the West has been largely unified in confronting Russia after it invaded Ukraine, there’s wide acknowledgement that unity will be tested as the costs of war chip at the global economy.

The bolstering of forces along NATO’s eastern flank, almost certainly for at least the next 5-10 years if Russia is to be effectively dissuaded, will also put pressure on national budgets.

“We need to do more, and therefore we need to invest more. There is a new sense of urgency and I expect that the leaders will agree to accelerate the investments in defense,” said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg before chairing the security alliance’s summit.

En route to Brussels aboard Air Force One, Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told reporters that “what we would like to hear is that the resolve and unity that we’ve seen for the past month will endure for as long as it takes.”

The energy crisis exacerbated by the war will be a particularly hot topic at the European Council summit, where leaders from Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece are hoping for an urgent, coordinated bloc-wide response. EU officials have said they will seek U.S. help on a plan to top up natural gas storage facilities for next winter, and they also want the bloc to jointly purchase gas.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has dismissed calls to boycott Russian energy supplies, saying it would cause significant damage to his country’s economy. Scholz is facing pressure from environmental activists to quickly wean Germany off Russian energy, but he said the process will have to be gradual.

“To do so from one day to the next would mean plunging our country and all of Europe into recession,” Scholz said Wednesday.

Poland and other eastern flank NATO countries will also be looking for clarity on how the United States and fellow European nations can assist in dealing with their growing concerns about Russian aggression as well as a spiraling refugee crisis. More than 3.5 million refugees have fled Ukraine in recent weeks, including more than 2 million to Poland.

Biden is scheduled to travel to Poland on Friday, where both issues are expected to be at the center of talks with President Andrzej Duda. Another significant moment could come shortly before Biden returns to Washington on Saturday. The White House said he plans to “deliver remarks on the united efforts of the free world to support the people of Ukraine, hold Russia accountable for its brutal war, and defend a future that is rooted in democratic principles.”

Sullivan said that Biden and fellow leaders would aim to “set out a longer-term game plan” for what forces and capabilities are going to be required for the alliance’s eastern flank countries.

Four new NATO battlegroups, which usually number between 1,000-1,500 troops, are being set up in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is expected to address the NATO summit by video, said late Wednesday that he wants the alliance to “declare that it will fully assist Ukraine to win this war” by supplying any weapons necessary.

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