(Washington) Preserving the unity found by Westerners against Russia since the invasion of Ukraine, and probing their posture against China: Joe Biden begins a week of intense diplomatic activity which will see him leave Wednesday for the ‘Europe.
The American president begins by talking Monday, at 11 a.m., with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Ministers Mario Draghi and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
This call should prepare a day of very high diplomatic intensity Thursday, in Brussels.
Joe Biden, his counterparts from the Old Continent and other Heads of State and Government of allied countries will hold nothing less than an extraordinary NATO summit, a G7 meeting and a European Union summit, at which the American president is invited.
Joe Biden will then travel to Poland on Friday and Saturday, a country which is seeing an influx of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees. Ten million people, more than a quarter of the country’s population, have now fled their homes.
His agenda for the time being only provides for a meeting with his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda, which is fueling speculation about another commitment from the American president – the White House having already made it known that an incursion into Ukraine was excluded.
The American president had made two foreign policy promises at the start of his term: to repair the alliances damaged by his predecessor Donald Trump, and to devote himself more to the rivalry with China.
The war in Ukraine has so far enabled the host of the White House to tick the first box: the West has imposed unprecedented economic sanctions on Russia, while some countries have made spectacular strategic reversals.
Regarding the “pivot to Asia”, Joe Biden is currently forced to turn instead to Europe. But the assault by Russian President Vladimir Putin could act as a revealer of the balance of power between Washington and Beijing.
The Americans raised their voices last week by publicly worrying about possible military and economic support from China to Russia. Joe Biden has already threatened his counterpart Xi Jinping, during a video call on Friday, of retaliation if he takes action.
The American president is betting that the severity of the sanctions against Russia will make China think, the world’s second economic power, whose leaders, far from condemning the invasion of Ukraine, refuse even to speak of “war”, preferring to evoke the “crisis” or the “situation”.
But Joe Biden’s calculation can only work if the United States and its allies show the same firmness vis-à-vis Beijing as that shared vis-à-vis Moscow.
However, the economic stakes of a potential escalation with China are of a completely different dimension, in an already volatile global context of soaring energy prices and certain foodstuffs.
The American president and his allies will also have to decide how to maintain pressure on Moscow over time. After almost a month of war, consultations and escalating sanctions, what threats can Westerners still brandish in the face of the ongoing bloody conflict?
On the economic level, many cartridges have already been fired. On the military level, the Americans are regularly congratulating themselves on having “galvanized” NATO, but the options are narrowing and becoming more complex.
Joe Biden, for example, promised to help Kyiv acquire long-range air defense systems, Russian S-300s. But this commitment raises difficult logistical and strategic questions: where to find these devices? How to deliver them? How to strengthen Ukrainian forces without weakening other European countries?
A recent incident precisely involving Poland illustrated the limit set by the United States itself: do nothing that would provoke a direct military confrontation with Russia.
Warsaw had offered to entrust the Americans with Mig-29 fighter planes, so that the latter would then deliver them to Ukraine. Washington had rejected, rather curtly, the proposal.