Absent from Biden’s Europe trip: An endgame for war and cheaper gas

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MADRID — President Biden issued a stark warning to Americans after Russian troops invaded Ukraine in February: Standing up to President Vladimir V. Putin could harm the US economy. “I’m not going to pretend it’s going to be painless,” he said in remarks in the East Room of the White House.

But few in Mr. Biden’s administration imagined how bitter warfare along the Russian border could lead to domestic political and economic pain: growing anger over $5-a-gallon gasoline, a growing frustration with rising food and rent prices, and growing opposition to the spending of billions of dollars. dollars on a foreign conflict with no end in sight.

At meetings of the Group of 7 nations and NATO this week in Europe, Mr Biden and his allies hammered home the idea that they must remain united against Russia while drawing new and stronger lines against what ‘they regard as predatory economic practices of China.

But the rallies also underscored the deep strains of war on Western leaders and consumers due to energy costs that have soared in the wake of tough sanctions on Russia and could rise further.

Despite all the steps Mr Biden and his allies have taken to counter Russian aggression – including a fast track to NATO membership for Finland and Sweden and a plan to cap the price of oil exports Russian – the leaders did not describe the end game in the long term. war of attrition.

Mr. Biden is already feeling the political heat from his swift response to the Ukraine invasion, though few of his opponents in the United States explicitly frame him that way. His efforts to ban Russian oil imports soon after the invasion were followed by global price spikes, which undermined consumer confidence and threatened the Democrats’ hold on Congress in the upcoming midterm elections. . Republicans have tried to blame the president’s policies on energy and climate, but the invasion and the West’s response to it are the reasons for the push.

If the war drags on and Mr Biden fails in his plan to keep Russian oil heavily priced, some analysts say oil prices could skyrocket to as high as $200 a barrel, which could mean $7 a gallon of gasoline or more — prices that, if sustained, would seriously damage Mr. Biden’s re-election hopes.

A protracted conflict would also force the United States and its allies to find additional funds for military and other aid to Ukraine, on top of the $40 billion Congress has already approved this year. For now, it’s just a small group of opponents who are questioning the spending, but that discontent could spread, providing a line of attack for former President Donald J. Trump, who is pointing to plans for a rematch with Mr. Biden in 2024.

Those undercurrents make the coming months crucial for Mr. Biden and his emboldened international coalition — a fact that administration officials have begun to acknowledge. Mr Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told reporters on the sidelines of G7 meetings in the German Alps that allies would try to help outgunned Ukrainian forces gain as much leverage as possible in war before winter, because “an overwhelming conflict is not in the interests of the Ukrainian people, for obvious reasons.

Mr. Sullivan and Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said this week that officials would move quickly to negotiate and implement the myriad unresolved details of the proposed cap on the price of Russian oil exports, promising that there would be a relief for drivers at the gas pump when it is set up. But many economists and energy experts doubt that the cap, which has never been tried on a global scale like this, can come to fruition effectively anytime soon. Privately, some administration officials admit it could take until late fall or longer.

European leaders have more publicly grappled this week with the pain of war for their citizens, particularly the availability and price of energy. But in a few limited speeches in Germany and Spain, Mr. Biden expressed only unwavering resolve in the cause of deterring Mr. Putin’s assaults.

“We send an unequivocal message, in my view,” Biden said Wednesday in Madrid, “that NATO is strong, united, and the steps we take at this summit will further increase our collective strength.”

The president’s focus this week on war, energy price inflation and looming threats from China came to the exclusion of many of the issues that dominated his 2020 campaign — and current controversies that animate his party at home.

He and his fellow leaders rarely mentioned the Covid-19 pandemic. Mr. Biden’s sprawling — and stalled — plans for new social programs have been shelved. Even climate change has mostly been relegated to lofty promises in public forums rather than concrete promises of action.

What administration officials saw as the crowning achievement of the G7 meetings – the tentative agreement to try to keep Russian oil flowing to the world market, but at heavily reduced prices that would starve Mr. Putin of revenue for his war machine – was the latest example of Mr Biden seeking solutions to consumer pain caused by war.

Senior officials have contacted Venezuela – a Russian ally that has been under US sanctions for years – over the oil supply crisis. The administration has also asked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for help in getting grain out of Ukraine to ease food shortages.

And next month, Mr Biden will travel to Saudi Arabia and personally meet Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, with the US president expected to pressure the de facto Saudi leader to increase oil production, although he has already condemned the prince as an “outcast”. because of the brutal assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident, in 2018.

In each of these cases, the imperative to respond to the ripple effects of war has led Mr. Biden to at least consider what would once have been unthinkable. This underlines the reality for the president and his allies: there are few solutions to the current situation that do not come with downsides.

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