US, European Commission Affirm Commitment to Deter Putin

U.S. President Joe Biden is headed to Poland Friday, after meeting in Brussels with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Biden and von der Leyen announced formation of a joint task force to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels.

Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin has used the profits from its energy sales “to drive his war machine” in Ukraine. Biden said he wanted “to make it clear that the American people would not be part of subsidizing Putin’s brutal, unjustified war against the people of Ukraine.”

“We are determined to stand up against Russia’s brutal war,” von der Leyen said. “This war will be a strategic failure for Putin.”

The United States is providing Europe with 15 billion cubic meters of liquid natural gas this year.

In Poland, Biden will go to the eastern town of Rzeszów, near the border with Ukraine.   Poland, a NATO ally, has taken in millions of Ukraine refugees.

Late Thursday, Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency said that Ukraine told the agency that Russian forces were shelling Ukrainian checkpoints in the city of Slavutych, where many people live who work at the nearby Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. This is putting them at risk and preventing further rotation of personnel to and from the site.

Earlier Thursday, Biden said there would be a Western military response if Russia uses chemical weapons in Ukraine.

“It would trigger a response in kind,” Biden replied to a reporter’s question during a news conference. “Whether or not you’re asking whether NATO would cross (into Ukraine to confront Russian forces), we’d make that decision at the time.”

He also said at NATO headquarters that Russia should be removed from the Group of 20 major economies and that Ukraine be allowed to attend G-20 meetings.

Biden confirmed the issue was raised during his meetings with other world leaders Thursday as they marked one month since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Asked whether Ukraine needs to cede any territory to achieve a cease-fire with Russia, Biden responded, “I don’t believe that they’re going to have to do that,” but that is a decision for Kyiv to make.

At his news conference, Biden said the United States is committing more than $1 billion in humanitarian assistance “to help get relief to millions of Ukrainians affected by the war in Ukraine.”

“With a focus on reuniting families,” the United States will welcome 100,000 Ukrainians and invest $320 million to support democratic resilience and defend human rights in Ukraine and neighboring countries, the president said.

NATO also announced Thursday that the defense alliance would bolster its capabilities after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had called on the organization’s leaders to provide more weaponry to his country ”without limitations” as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters its second month.

Zelenskyy’s appeal came as Biden met with NATO leaders to discuss their short- and long-term response to the Russian invasion.

Addressing the summit via video, Zelenskyy said his military needed fighter jets, tanks, and improved air and sea defense systems, as he warned Russia would attack NATO member Poland and other Eastern European countries. 

“Russia has no intention of stopping in Ukraine,” he declared. ”It wants to go further. Against Eastern members of NATO. The Baltic states. Poland, for sure.” 

A White House statement issued Thursday said that “between now and the NATO summit in June, we will develop plans for additional forces and capabilities to strengthen NATO’s defenses.”

A Biden administration official told reporters that Zelenskyy did not reiterate on Thursday his demand for a no-fly zone, which NATO previously rejected on the grounds it would lead to direct conflict between NATO and Russia. 

NATO members said in a joint statement after the summit that they would “accelerate” their commitment to invest at least 2% of their national budgets on the alliance, allowing for a significant strengthening of its “longer term deterrence and defense posture.”

The alliance also vowed to “further develop the full range of ready forces and capabilities necessary to maintain credible deterrence and defense.” 

In addition to participating in the NATO talks, Biden met Thursday with G-7 leaders and the European Council.

The White House on Thursday announced a new round of sanctions targeting 48 Russian state-owned defense companies and more than 400 Russian political figures, oligarchs and other entities — an action Biden said was being done in alignment with the European Union.

Britain said Thursday its new package of sanctions includes freezing the assets of Gazprombank, a main channel for oil and gas payments, as well as Alfa Bank, a top private lender in Russia. Oil tycoon Evgeny Shvidler, Sberbank CEO Herman Gref and Polina Kovaleva, stepdaughter of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, are among individuals sanctioned. 

China has criticized the sanctions imposed on Russia and has drawn warnings from Biden about not helping Russia evade the measures.

Asked about his recent phone discussion on the topic with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Biden said he had made clear to Xi “the consequences of him helping Russia,” but, he noted, “I made no threats.”

Chief National Correspondent Steve Herman, National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin and U.N. Correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.

Some information came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters. 

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