Biden and his Western allies warn Russia against chemical weapons after emergency summits
BRUSSELS – President Joe Biden and his Western allies pledged new sanctions and humanitarian aid on Thursday in response to Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine, but their offers fell short of more robust military assistance which President Volodymyr Zelenskyy argued in two live video appearances.
Leaders spent Thursday working out their next steps to counter Russia’s month-long invasion — and considering how they might respond if Putin deploys a chemical, biological or even nuclear weapon. They met at a trio of emergency summits that saw them shuttle through Brussels for back-to-back meetings of NATO, the Group of Seven industrialized nations and the 27-member European Council.
Biden, at an early evening press conference after meeting NATO and G-7 leaders, warned that a chemical attack by Russia would “trigger an in-kind response.”
Biden and his NATO allies have previously stressed that the United States and NATO will not send troops on the ground to Ukraine. It was not immediately clear whether the president intended to suggest that such an attack would lead to the United States or its allies deploying troops to help Ukraine.
“You ask if NATO would cross, we would make that decision then,” Biden said.
US President Joe Biden speaks to media representatives as he arrives for a European Union (EU) summit at EU headquarters in Brussels on March 24, 2022. (Photo by JOHN THYS/AFP via Getty Pictures)
Zelenskyy, while grateful for their help, has made it clear to Western allies that he needs far more than they are currently willing to give.
“One percent of all your planes, one percent of all your tanks,” Zelenskyy asked members of the NATO alliance. “We can’t just buy them. When we have all of this, it will give us and you 100% security.”
Biden, who was attending all three summits, said more help was on the way. But Western leaders have also hinted that they are treading carefully so as not to escalate the conflict further beyond Ukraine’s borders.
“NATO has made the choice to support Ukraine in this war without going to war with Russia,” French President Emmanuel Macron said. “Therefore, we have decided to intensify our ongoing work to prevent any escalation and organize ourselves in the event of an escalation.”
Billions of dollars worth of military equipment have already been provided. A US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said Western nations were discussing the possibility of supplying anti-ship weapons, fearing that Russia could launch amphibious assaults along the coast of the black Sea.
Biden said his top priority in Thursday’s meetings was to ensure the West stayed on the same page in its response to Russian aggression against Ukraine.
“The most important thing is that we stick together,” Biden said.
Separately, the White House announced that the United States would take in 100,000 Ukrainian refugees and provide an additional $1 billion in food, medicine, water and other supplies.
US President Joe Biden attends a meeting of the North Atlantic Council during a NATO summit at NATO Headquarters in Brussels on March 24, 2022. (Photo by EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images )
Finland announced on Thursday that it would send more military equipment to Ukraine, its second delivery in about three weeks. And Belgium announced that it would add a billion euros to its defense budget in response to the Russian invasion.
At the same time, Washington will expand its sanctions against Russia, targeting members of the country’s parliament as well as defense contractors. The United States will also work with other Western countries to ensure that gold reserves held by the Russian central bank are subject to existing sanctions.
As Russia faces growing international isolation, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also warned China against coming to Moscow’s aid. He called on Beijing “to join the rest of the world in clearly condemning the brutal war against Ukraine and not supporting Russia”.
But Stoltenberg also made it clear that the West had a “responsibility to prevent this conflict from becoming a full-fledged war in Europe.”
The possibility of Russia using chemical or even nuclear weapons was a dark topic of conversation in Brussels, but one that leaders were preparing for.
White House officials said the United States and NATO had been working on contingency planning if Russia were to deploy unconventional weapons. NATO has specially trained and equipped forces ready to deploy in the event of such an attack against the population, territory or forces of a member country.
Stoltenberg said NATO leaders agreed on Thursday to send equipment to Ukraine to help protect it against a chemical weapons attack.
“This could include detection, protection and medical support equipment, as well as training in decontamination and crisis management,” he said.
Biden before leaving for Europe on Wednesday said the possibility of a chemical attack was a “real threat.” Additionally, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told CNN this week that Russia might consider using its nuclear weapons if it felt there was “an existential threat to our country.”
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin warned Thursday: “Russia is capable of anything”.
“They don’t follow any rules,” Marin told reporters. “They don’t abide by any of the international laws they really care about.”
The Russian invasion prompted European nations to reconsider their military spending, and Stoltenberg opened the NATO summit by saying the alliance must “respond to a new security reality in Europe.”
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While the West was largely unified in the face of Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, it is widely believed that unity will be tested as the costs of war weigh on the global economy.
The buildup of forces along NATO’s eastern flank, almost certainly for at least the next five to ten years if Russia is to be effectively deterred, will put pressure on national budgets.
The war-exacerbated energy crisis will be a particularly hot topic at the European Council summit, where leaders from Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece are hoping for an urgent and coordinated bloc-wide response. EU officials have said they will seek US help on a plan to complete natural gas storage facilities for next winter, and they also want the bloc to jointly buy gas.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has rejected calls for a boycott of 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 overnight would be to plunge our country and all of Europe into recession,” Scholz said on Wednesday.
Ursula von der Leyen, head of the executive branch of the European Union, said ahead of Biden’s visit that she wanted to discuss the possibility of obtaining additional deliveries of liquefied natural gas from the United States for the block of 27 nations “for the next two winters”.
The EU imports 90% of the natural gas used to generate electricity, heat homes and supply industry, with Russia supplying nearly 40% of the EU’s gas and a quarter of its oil. The bloc is looking for ways to reduce its dependence on Russian gas by diversifying its suppliers.
The United States is looking for ways to “boost” LNG supplies to Europe to help, said Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser.
Poland and other NATO countries on the eastern flank will also seek to clarify how the United States and other European countries can help address their growing concerns about Russian aggression as well as spiraling refugee crisis. More than 3.5 million refugees have fled Ukraine in recent weeks, including more than 2 million to Poland.
Biden is due to visit Poland on Friday, where energy and refugee issues are expected to be at the center of discussions with President Andrzej Duda.
Four new NATO battlegroups, usually numbering between 1,000 and 1,500 soldiers, are being set up in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria.
Madhani reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Matthew Lee, Hannah Fingerhut, Ellen Knickmeyer and Darlene Superville in Washington, Dasha Litvinova in Lviv, Ukraine, and Samuel Petrequin in Brussels contributed to this