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Biden heads to Europe to keep allies united against Russia as heavy fighting in Ukraine does its damage

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However, big questions arise over the talks in Germany and Spain, most importantly whether the united Western response to the conflict can be sustained – especially when leaders face the threat of a global recession and growing anger at home over rising gas prices. food and other goods.

Keeping up the pressure

After several rounds of Western sanctions, Moscow is feeling the pinch. But as fighting has shifted eastward from Kiev, Moscow’s growing gains have led to increased US and European anxiety on the war trajectory.

At the same time, sanctions on Russian oil and gas have helped boost energy prices, leading to pain at the gas pump. And the effect of the war on Ukrainian grain exports has led to rising food prices and the threat of a hunger crisis in poorer countries, a topic expected to be discussed this week.

The ensuing political repercussions have led to questions about the leaders ’willingness to hold the pressure campaign as the war continues.

“Ukraine will look big and the big question is whether this group will be able to move sanctions forward,” said Matt Goodman, senior vice president for economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Zelensky will appeal for more sanctions and more military assistance when he appears in practice at the G7 and NATO. And U.S. officials say Biden plans to unveil steps along with other leaders to increase pressure on Russia to invade – though they declined to say what they would look like.

At the same time, Biden expects the group to discuss steps to stabilize energy markets, an issue an official said would be at the “heart of the debate” at the castle in the Bavarian Alps where the G7 is meeting.

Finding a final game

At the start of the war, Western leaders rallied after a sanctions regime to isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin. But a few months later, how to end the war and potentially end sanctions that are helping boost inflation has led to tensions.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who visited Kiev for the second time last week, has positioned himself as a key ally of Zelensky and insists Ukraine “must win”. Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron has warned against “humiliating” Russia. And along with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, he has maintained open channels of communication with the Kremlin.

This has sometimes put them at odds with Biden, who accused Putin of genocide and war crimes, while also saying – at the end of his recent visit to Europe – that he “cannot stay in power”. Biden’s defense secretary said after his visit to Ukraine that Russia should be “weakened”.

Biden’s aides insist the unity he has worked so hard to cultivate remains intact.

“I mean, every country speaks for itself. Every country has concerns about what they are willing to do or not. But as far as the alliance is concerned, it really has never been stronger and more stable than is today. “said John Kirby, strategic communications coordinator at the White House National Security Council.

These differences could spark intense talks this week, when leaders will inevitably have to discuss how to end the conflict or through Ukraine’s concessions, more coordinated work toward mediating a ceasefire, or just months of endless fighting.

“I don’t think anyone can know for sure,” Kirby said this week when asked how long the war would last.

After all, the biggest threat to Western determination may be the fatigue between leaders and their population in a war without a clear path to completion.

“It was clear from the beginning that it would become increasingly difficult over time because the fatigue of war is coming,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told CNN earlier this month. “New crises are emerging, but we are also moving forward, and if we impose sanctions, then, first, they will hurt Russia, but then they will hurt our side as well.”

New NATO members

It was a time when this week’s NATO summit in Madrid was seen as a potential host party for the newest members of the alliance. But plans to quickly follow up on recent applications by Sweden and Finland to join were thwarted by roadblocks thrown by Turkey and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The delay has led to disappointment that what could have been a powerful signal to Putin has instead been blocked by Turkish demands.

Erdogan accused countries of harboring “terrorist” organizations he claims threaten his country’s security, especially Kurds from Turkey and elsewhere. He has demanded the extradition of several followers of a US-based opposition leader, whom he blamed for a failed coup in 2016.

U.S. officials are still confident that the two countries’ applications will be ultimately successful. And they said Biden is likely to discuss the issue on the sidelines of meetings with officials from various countries, including Turkey.

But they expressed little confidence that Erdogan’s concerns could be resolved by the end of the summit, raising hopes for a grand reception in Madrid.

A new focus: China

At last year’s G7 summit off the coast of Cornish in English, Biden pressured other leaders to introduce a harsh new language condemning human rights abuses in China in a final communiqué. Leading up to the document, the group occasionally had heated conversations behind closed doors about their collective approach to China.

The topic could provoke heated conversations as some European leaders do not necessarily share Biden’s view of China as an existential threat. However, the President has repeatedly made it clear that he hopes to persuade other leaders to take a tougher line. And the Russian occupation of Ukraine has reinforced the President’s frequent warnings about autocracies against democracies.

“I think it is fair to say that last year marked an important point regarding the G7, speaking for the first time about China’s austerity economic practices,” a senior administration official said this week. “We expect this to be, if anything, a bigger topic of conversation.”

In NATO as well, leaders will include China for the first time in the final document of the “strategic concept”, especially the long-term challenges that China poses to European security. For the first time, the summit will include leaders from Asia, including Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, as guest participants.

And Biden plans to make a renewed effort to launch a global infrastructure partnership aimed at advancing low- and middle-income countries, another effort to challenge China’s reach.

Climate commitments

The G7 countries will also discuss their intention to reduce the use of fossil fuels and take meaningful steps towards addressing the climate crisis. But the race to remove Russian natural gas to Europe and ease U.S. gasoline prices has thrown a key point at these countries’ climate commitments – and they are running out of time to meet their targets.

After the EU announced an accelerated clean energy transition in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, individual European countries – including Germany and the United Kingdom – are turning to coal to replace lost gas. And Germany is also looking to Africa for new gas supplies.

“Germany is starting to back down and Chancellor Scholz is looking to make a new deal with Senegal on gas supplies. This is a worrying sign of the G7 unity in May on the shift from fossil fuels,” said Alex Scott, head of the climate diplomacy program and geopolitics in the global climate. Think-tank E3G, told CNN. “What is happening in Germany at the moment is sending the wrong message.”

Similarly, Biden and his administration have made lowering gas prices their top priority in the country, with Biden recently backing a gas tax cut that is opposed by many members of his party. Scott also told CNN that he is seeking concrete commitments from the US on the phasing out of coal, something he has had difficulty doing in past climate negotiations.

“It’s time for the US to put a new policy on the table,” Scott said. “This means clarifying when and how the US will end its obsession with coal. The change in government and the wave of climate ambitions and goal setting that they brought have already expired.”

CNN’s Ella Nilsen contributed to this report.

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