5 takeaways from Joe Biden’s trip to two of the most productive foreign summits in years

By Kevin Liptak, CNN

President Joe Biden and his fellow NATO leaders left a very important summit Thursday that left the defense alliance bigger, more muscular and more focused.

Yet after a pair of high-profile summit meetings in Europe this week, questions persist over Biden’s ability to convince both his fellow leaders and the American public that the costs of supporting Ukraine and punishing Russia are still worth bearing.

Leader after leader at both summits – including Biden – pledged to support Ukraine “as long as it takes”, but few were willing to offer an actual timetable for ending the conflict.

This contributed to a sense of foreboding that clouded the many announcements, some very large, at the Group of 7 in the Bavarian Alps and later at the NATO gathering in Madrid. Leaders have openly warned of growing war fatigue and disinterest as their populations turn away.

Here are five takeaways from Biden’s trip to the G7 and NATO summits in Europe:

The alliance remains united – for now

“Unity” was the buzzword this week as leaders sought to demonstrate they remained aligned as the war in Ukraine entered its fifth month. And despite fears of rift, NATO leaders left Madrid with a renewed sense of purpose after years of hesitation over how to approach Russia.

The alliance is set to expand after officially inviting Finland and Sweden to join. The way was cleared for the two countries, each with a long history of military non-alignment, after Turkey dropped its objections, giving this summit a somewhat unexpected boost at first.

Leaders made major improvements to NATO’s force posture along its eastern edge, increasing the number of troops on high alert sevenfold. Biden announced new rotating deployments of US troops to the Baltics and Romania, new ships to Spain and planes to the UK, and for the first time, a permanent army garrison headquarters in Poland.

After circling the issue for years, NATO made it clear in its updated mission statement that Russia now poses the “most significant threat to Allied security.” And he mentioned China for the first time, saying the budding partnership between Moscow and Beijing “goes against our values”.

Together, these achievements represent a fundamental shift for the alliance, which has struggled for years to determine the best way to approach Russia. President Vladimir Putin, fearing the eastward expansion of the alliance, now faces a much more united collective.

“He wanted less of NATO,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said this week. “Now President Putin has more NATO on his borders.”

Zelensky urges Allied leaders to help him turn the tide

Despite the determination, it is unclear whether any of the steps taken to respond to the war in Ukraine at this week’s meetings in Europe – new sanctions, more military aid and a reinvigorated NATO – can change the field. of battle dynamic that currently favors Russia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged NATO leaders to help him regain the initiative during a summit speech on Wednesday, arguing for more modern artillery and sustained support to fight the Russians.

“The war must not go on forever. To break the Russian artillery advantage, we need a lot more of these modern systems, modern artillery,” Zelensky said.

Biden told a press conference he was preparing to unveil $800 million in new security assistance, including the same model of missile defense system used to protect airspace in Washington, DC. Other countries have made similar commitments.

But the weapons still fall short of what Zelensky asked for, and for now it seems unlikely that they will fundamentally alter the trajectory of the war. Instead, leaders are hoping Russia will deplete its forces and artillery and be hampered by Western sanctions to resupply.

Western leaders still haven’t defined an endgame in Ukraine

Biden gave little indication during his press conference that he believed the dispute would end anytime soon. Instead, he suggested that Americans should endure high gas prices for at least a little longer.

“As long as it takes, Russia cannot, in fact, defeat Ukraine and go beyond Ukraine,” he said.

He was repeating a term used throughout this week’s summit.

“Ukraine can count on us for as long as it takes,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Madrid.

“We will continue to provide financial, humanitarian and military support to Ukraine for as long as necessary,” the G7 leaders said in a joint statement.

But how long that takes remains unknown, and a point of contention, for Western leaders. Some push for decisive victory on the battlefield; others think more robust attempts to negotiate a settlement need to be made, especially amid the economic fallout at home.

“The consensus is that the war in Ukraine is going to last for a long time,” US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told a conference on Wednesday, offering a grim short-term assessment of what has become a bitter conflict.

High prices at home remain a priority when traveling abroad

One of the leaders’ priorities this week was to find a way to mitigate the high cost of gas that is frustrating their people and causing them political headaches.

“When we agreed that we were going to respond, we recognized that there would be costs to our people, our imposition of sanctions on Russia,” Biden said when meeting with the king of Spain this week.

Yet the magnitude of the price spikes surprised many on Biden’s team and left them in a precarious position months before the midterm elections.

Finding a way out of the predicament proved difficult. Biden’s attempts so far — releasing barrels of oil from reserves, reprimanding oil companies and offering a gas tax waiver — have yielded little progress.

He managed to convince his fellow G7 leaders to agree to try to cap the price of Russian oil, an idea championed by his Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen. But how and when this can be accomplished was an unanswered question by the time the summit ended. He suggested at his press conference that the West could use its influence by not providing insurance to ships carrying the goods.

“We wouldn’t provide them with insurance, so they would have a really hard time finding customers,” he said.

And he hinted that one of his aims on his next trip abroad to the Middle East would be to convince the Gulf countries to increase their production – although he denied having specifically asked his hosts in Saudi Arabia to start pumping more oil.

“I indicated to them that I thought they should increase oil production in a generic way, not for the Saudis in particular,” he said.

Biden’s problems at home are amplified by his successes abroad

American presidents always have more unilateral leeway on their foreign policy priorities than on their domestic agenda, which usually requires the cooperation of Congress.

For Biden, the phenomenon appears amplified. His heavy-handed approach to arming Ukraine and rallying the West behind Russian sanctions bears little resemblance to his struggles to advance domestic politics at home.

Some Democrats have privately complained that Biden doesn’t seem willing to fight as hard for his national priorities, like restoring abortion and the right to vote, as he is for Ukraine.

In some ways, the disparate level of success at home and abroad is exacerbated by the war in Ukraine. Biden’s goals on the foreign stage — to punish Russia — are making it harder for him domestically, as rising gas prices erode his political capital.

He is not the only leader facing serious political headwinds. The British Prime Minister, the French President and the German Chancellor are each facing voter discontent at home.

Yet Biden seems particularly plagued by a sour national mood that he seems unable to improve and even a Democratic party that has begun quietly questioning his leadership.

When he returns to Washington on Thursday, he will find that the challenges he left behind last week have come to nothing.

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