As war rages on in Ukraine, President Joe Biden will huddle with key allies in Brussels and Warsaw this week to talk through plans for imposing punishing new sanctions on Russia and dealing with an extraordinary humanitarian crisis, while developing a consensus on how they would respond if Russia were to launch a cyber, chemical or even nuclear attack.
Biden arrived in Brussels on Wednesday for a four-day trip that will test his ability to navigate Europe’s worst crisis since World War II ended in 1945. There are fears that Russia could use chemical or nuclear weapons as its invasion becomes bogged down in the face of logistical problems and fierce Ukrainian resistance.
“I think it’s a real threat,” Biden said of the possibility of Russia deploying chemical weapons. He spoke during a brief exchange with reporters at the White House before his departure.
Humanitarian challenges are growing as well. Millions of refugees have fled the fighting, mostly by crossing the border into Poland, and the war has jeopardized Ukraine’s wheat and barley harvests, raising the possibility of rising hunger in impoverished areas around the globe.
As Biden made his way to Brussels, his top diplomat announced he had made a formal determination that Russian troops have committed war crimes in Ukraine.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, traveling with Biden, said in a statement the assessment was made on a “careful review” of public and intelligence sources since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine a month ago. He said the U.S. would share that information with allies, partners and international institutions tasked with investigating allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“We’ve seen numerous credible reports of indiscriminate attacks and attacks deliberately targeting civilians, as well as other atrocities. Russia’s forces have destroyed apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, critical infrastructure, civilian vehicles, shopping centers and ambulances, leaving thousands of innocent civilians killed or wounded,” Blinken said.
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, said the president would coordinate with allies on military assistance for Ukraine and new sanctions on Russia during meetings Thursday with NATO officials, Group of Seven leaders and European Union allies.
At NATO, Biden and fellow leaders will “set out a longer term game plan” for what forces and capabilities are going to be required for the alliance’s eastern flank countries, Sullivan said. Leaders of several Eastern European NATO members have pressed for a greater U.S. and NATO presence in their backyards in the aftermath of the Ukraine invasion.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said four new battlegroups, which usually number between 1,000 and 1,500 troops, are being temporarily set up in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. A permanent force posture is expected to be formally announced at the next NATO summit in Madrid in June, Sullivan said.
European Union nations on Wednesday also signed off on another 500 million euros in military aid for Ukraine. EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell called the doubling of the EU’s military aid since the Feb. 24 beginning of the war “another sign of the EU’s support to the Ukrainian armed forces to defend their territory and their population.”
At the meeting of the Group of Seven, leaders from the bloc of wealthy, industrialized nations are expected to unveil a new initiative to coordinate sanctions enforcement and unveil additional sanctions against Russian officials.