White House: Biden visits Poland this week on tour of Europe

Poland is a crucial ally in the Ukraine crisis. It hosts thousands of US troops and takes in more people fleeing the war in Ukraine — more than 2 million — than any other country amid Europe’s worst refugee crisis in decades.

Biden heads to Warsaw for a bilateral meeting with President Andrzej Duda scheduled for Saturday. Biden will discuss how the US, along with its allies and partners, is responding to “the humanitarian and human rights crisis that has created Russia’s unjustified and unprovoked war against Ukraine,” Psaki said.

Monday before his trip, Biden discussed the war with European leaders. President Emmanuel Macron of France, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany, Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom took part in the one-hour call that began at 11:14 a.m. and ended at 12:12 p.m.

White House officials have said Biden has no plans to travel to Ukraine. State Secretary Antony Blinken, who was in Poland this month, made a short crossing to neighboring Ukraine, together with the foreign minister of that country, Dmytro Kuleba, in solidarity. Poland has been one of the most vocal in asking fellow NATO members to consider getting more involved to curb the bloodshed.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has largely united US, NATO and European allies, as well as allies in Asia and elsewhere. The governments of the United States and Europe view Moscow’s military aggression as a threat to their security and strategic interests.

Biden and NATO have repeatedly said that while the US and NATO will provide weapons and other defensive support to Ukraine that is not a member of NATO, they are determined on behalf of Kiev to avoid any escalation that risks a wider war with Russia.

The Pentagon on March 9, rejected a Polish proposal to supply Ukraine with MiG fighter jets through a NATO air base, saying that Allied efforts against the Russian invasion should focus on more useful weaponry and that the MiG transfer with a US and NATO connection a “high risk” of escalating the war.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged the US to equip its military with more aircraft and advanced air defense systems. NATO and the United States have rejected his request to establish a “no-fly zone” over Ukraine to suppress Russian air forces, saying it would put Western forces in direct conflict with Russia’s.

Determined resistance from Ukrainian fighters when Russian tanks and troops invaded Ukraine in late February quickly defeated Russian forces’ attempts to storm Ukraine’s capital and overthrow the west-facing government. Denied an easy and early victory, the Russian army is harking back to the scorched earth tactics of its past offensives in Syria and Chechnya, battering population centers with airstrikes and artillery shelling, bringing civilians like those in the port city of Mariupol safely to to go outside for food or water, to bury the dead or to flee.

After initially rallying European allies to join sweeping sanctions against Russia over the invasion, Biden now includes dealing with some NATO members who are pushing for more direct involvement in the fighting. That includes proposals from Poland for peacekeepers.

Biden’s trip includes a summit Thursday of NATO leaders, who will use the meeting to look at strengthening the bloc’s own deterrence and defenses, immediately and in the long run, to deal with the now openly confrontational Putin.

That meeting is intended not only to demonstrate “NATO support for Ukraine, but also our willingness to protect and defend all NATO allies,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told CBS’ “Face the nation”.

“And by sending that message, we prevent an escalation of the conflict into a full-fledged war between NATO and Russia,” Stoltenberg said.

NATO members on the front lines on the alliance’s eastern flank are also calling for advanced US and British air defense systems to guard against the kinds of missiles and air strikes that Russia unleashes on Ukraine.

“We need to strengthen our eastern flank of NATO. We’ve been talking about this for years, but now it’s time for action,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told CNN’s State of the Union.

She added: “We need a little more capabilities to support ourselves and defend ourselves through air defense systems, which is absolutely necessary here, but also the troops present who also act as a deterrent to the Russian army.”

Noting that Russia is firing missiles “from such a great distance that they can also reach Paris from where they are firing now,” Kallas said European leaders “need to understand that this defense is our common issue, and it’s not a theoretical discussion, but problem in real life.”

Biden will also attend a European Council summit to discuss allies’ sanctions against Russia and humanitarian efforts for the millions of Ukrainians displaced by the Russian attacks, Psaki said last week.

On his agenda is a meeting of leaders of the Group of Seven Countries to discuss the punitive financial and economic penalties imposed on Russia by the West and its allies for its invasion, Psaki said.

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