By CHRIS MEGERIAN and AAMER MADHANI
BRAZIL (AP) – As war continues in Ukraine, President Joe Biden will meet with key allies in Brussels and Warsaw this week to discuss plans to impose new sanctions on Russia and deal with an extraordinary humanitarian crisis, while developing a consensus on how they would respond if Russia launched a cyber, chemical or even nuclear attack.
Biden arrived in Brussels on Wednesday for a four-day trip that will test his ability to deal with Europe’s worst crisis since World War II ended in 1945. There are fears that Russia may use chemical or nuclear weapons while its invasion gets stuck 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 also growing. Millions of refugees fled the fighting, mostly crossing the border into Poland, and the war endangered Ukraine’s wheat and barley crops, increasing the chances of increasing hunger in impoverished areas around the world.
As Biden was on his way to Brussels, his top diplomat announced that he had made a formal determination that Russian troops had committed war crimes in Ukraine.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was traveling with Biden, said in a statement that the assessment was made in a “careful review” of public and intelligence sources since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine a month ago. He said the United States would share that information with allies, partners and international institutions tasked with investigating allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“We have seen numerous credible reports of indiscriminate attacks and deliberate attacks on civilians, as well as other atrocities. Russian forces have destroyed apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, critical infrastructure, civilian vehicles, shopping malls and ambulances, leaving thousands of innocent civilians dead. or injured, “Blinken said.
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, said the president would coordinate with allies military assistance to Ukraine and new sanctions on Russia during Thursday’s meetings with NATO officials, Group of Seven leaders and European Union allies.
In NATO, Biden and his colleagues “will establish a long-term game plan” for the strengths and capabilities that will be needed for the countries on the eastern flank of the alliance, Sullivan said. Leaders of several Eastern European NATO members have pushed for a greater US and NATO presence in their gardens following the invasion of Ukraine.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said four new combat groups, typically between 1,000 and 1,500 troops, were being set up temporarily in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. A permanent stance is expected to be formally announced at the next NATO summit in Madrid in June, Sullivan said.
European Union countries also signed another 500 million euros in military aid to Ukraine on Wednesday. EU Foreign Minister Josep Borrell called the doubling of EU military aid since the start of the war on February 24 as “another sign of EU support for the Ukrainian armed forces to defend their territory and population.” .
At the meeting of the Group of Seven, the leaders of the bloc of rich and industrialized nations are expected to unveil a new initiative to coordinate the implementation of sanctions and reveal additional sanctions against Russian officials.
A new sanctions option Biden is considering is targeting hundreds of members of the Russian State Duma, the lower house of parliament, according to a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the possible measure. The official added that no final decision has been made and that the new sanctions will be implemented in coordination with Western allies.
Sullivan said other Russian oligarchs and political figures would be among those nominated in sanctions filed on Thursday.
Earlier this week, Biden warned that Russia could be planning cyberattacks that would affect U.S. companies. The US president also spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday, warning him not to support Russia with military or financial assistance.
U.S. concerns about China are expected to be on the agenda when Biden attends a European Council meeting, where he will also discuss the worsening humanitarian and refugee crises that have unfolded over the past month. The European Union is scheduled to hold a summit with China on April 1.
The focus of the President’s agenda during his time in Europe is to make sure that the US and its allies remain on the same page.
“What we would like to hear is that the resolution and unity we saw last month will last as long as it takes,” Sullivan told Air Force One reporters on their way to Brussels.
Sullivan also said the United States is looking for ways to “increase” liquefied natural gas supplies to Europe to help offset supply disruptions. The European Union imports almost all the natural gas needed to generate electricity, heat homes and supply industry, with Russia supplying almost half of the EU’s gas and a quarter of its oil.
Before the trip, Sullivan said Putin’s references to nuclear weapons at the start of the conflict were “something we have to worry about,” adding that Biden would be talking to allies about “potential answers” if the Russian leader takes that step. .
Sullivan’s description of Biden’s journey was another sign that the crisis is entering a new and uncertain phase.
After the initial invasion failed to overthrow the Ukrainian government, the war became a very hard effort for Putin, who is dependent on airstrikes and artillery that are devastating civilian communities. Negotiations between Ukraine and Russia have not produced a ceasefire or a way to end the conflict, and the US continues to send weapons as anti-tank missiles to Ukrainian forces.
“This is one of those turning points for an American leader who defines his legacy internationally,” said Timothy Naftali, presidential historian at New York University.
Americans also increasingly see the crisis as one that will require economic sacrifices.
A new survey by The Associated Press-NORC’s Public Affairs Research Center reveals that most Americans say they are willing to accept damage to the economy if it helps stop Putin’s invasion. Forty percent now say the United States should play a “leading role,” compared to 26 percent in an AP-NORC poll conducted just before the invasion began.
Forty-six percent say the U.S. should play a “minor role.” The percentage who think the United States should not be involved at all has dropped from 20% to 13%.
Biden left for Europe as public health officials noted a global increase in COVID-19 cases. Confirmed cases of the virus have been steadily declining worldwide since January, but increased again last week due to the more infectious variant of the omicron and the suspension of COVID protocols in many countries in Europe, North America and others. places, the World Health Organization reported on Tuesday.
Biden press secretary Jen Psaki announced on Tuesday that she would not travel with Biden after testing positive for the second time in five months. Biden was last tested on Tuesday, according to the White House. Psaki said he had two “socially estranged meetings” with Biden on Monday and that he is not considered a “close contact” according to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Biden travels to Warsaw on Friday to meet with Polish officials to discuss the huge humanitarian tension caused by the Ukrainian refugee crisis. Biden is scheduled to meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda on Saturday.
Madhani reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Darlene Superville in Washington and Raf Casert and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.
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