Biden speech in Warsaw on Ukraine rallies the West, but not the rest



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For this week, the geopolitical West can pat itself on the back. As the one-year mark of Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine nears, President Biden journeyed to Warsaw from Kyiv and delivered a speech exulting in Ukraine’s defiance and the transatlantic consensus that has sustained it.

“One year ago, the world was bracing for the fall of Kyiv,” Biden told a crowd of thousands, waving American, Polish and Ukrainian flags outside the Royal Castle in Warsaw. “Well, I’ve just come from a visit to Kyiv and I can report, Kyiv stands strong. Kyiv stands proud. It stands tall. And most important, it stands free.”

Biden then hammered home the message of the moment: “When [Russian President Vladimir] Putin ordered his tanks to roll into Ukraine, he thought we would roll over,” he said. “He was wrong. The Ukrainian people are too brave. America, Europe, a coalition of nations from the Atlantic to the Pacific — we were too unified. Democracy was too strong. Instead of an easy victory he perceived and predicted, Putin left with burned-out tanks and Russian forces in disarray.”

The U.S. president, whose administration has played a leading role in steering the NATO response to Russia’s invasion, also sounded more somber notes as the war lurches on and Ukraine reckons with new Russian offensives. “We have to be honest and clear-eyed as we look at the year ahead. The defense of freedom is not the work of a day or of a year,” Biden said. “It’s always difficult. … As Ukraine continues to defend itself against the Russian onslaught and launch counteroffensives of its own, there will continue to be hard and very bitter days, victories and tragedies.”

Putin assures Russia he will win the war, then suspends nuclear arms deal

While in Warsaw, President Biden spoke about his commitment to supporting Ukraine on Feb. 21. (Video: The Washington Post)

Still, the main theme was one of fortitude and solidarity: The Kremlin may have sought “the Finlandization of NATO,” Biden said, referring to the Soviet Union’s Cold War-era domineering approach to its neutral neighbor, but it instead has led to “NATO-ization of Finland” — a reference to the planned Finnish and Swedish accession to the Western military alliance.

The address represented a curious contrast to that of former president Donald Trump, who, in a far different context in 2017, went to Warsaw and delivered a speech soaked in blood-and-soil nationalism, thinly veiled anti-migrant sentiment and where the word “democracy” was not uttered once. On Tuesday, Biden championed the steely unity of the West’s democracies.

Putin “thought autocrats like himself were tough and leaders of democracies were soft,” Biden said. “And then he met the iron will of America and nations everywhere who refuse to accept a world governed by fear and force.”

Earlier in the day in Moscow, Putin delivered a speech that illustrated the different reality that encases the Kremlin. He claimed Ukraine and Western elites were to blame for the war. “We used force and continue to use it to stop it,” Putin said, while also announcing that Russia would suspend participation in the last remaining bilateral nuclear arms control treaty with the United States.

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New polling by the European Council on Foreign Relations shows that public attitudes in the United States and Europe reinforce Biden’s rhetoric. Over half of those surveyed in the United States, Britain and nine European Union countries view Russia as an “adversary,” while 55 percent of the E.U. citizens polled support efforts to wean their nation off Russian energy, even if it means near-term pain for their own societies. In a shift from even last summer, more of those polled in the United States and Europe believe Ukraine needs to regain all of its territory, while fewer want to see a rapid end to the conflict if it means Ukraine must concede territory to Russia.

The ECFR report’s authors, veteran scholars and writers Timothy Garton Ash, Ivan Krastev and Mark Leonard, pointed to how the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 signaled to some European scholars at the time a moment of geopolitical divergence, with some major European governments opposed to the United States’ intervention. Two decades later, they are wholly aligned, with Washington still in the driver’s seat.

“It is now clear that, contrary to the Kremlin’s expectations, the war has consolidated the West, rather than weakened it,” they wrote in the report. “If the risk of a transatlantic split still exists, it comes from within: a possible victory by Donald Trump in the American presidential election in 2024 could be more threatening to Western unity than anything that Russia has so far been able to muster.”

At the same time, the survey also found a different set of attitudes in China, Turkey and India, where pluralities or majorities believe the war in Ukraine should end as soon as possible, even if it means Ukraine must make concessions. In a mark of skepticism toward the lofty rhetoric of Biden and his European counterparts, less than a quarter of those surveyed in China and Turkey believe the West is supporting Ukraine because of the principle of defending its territory or democracy. There is, of course, a long historical track record of Western myopia, misadventure and meddling that drives such views.

“Many non-Western nations had their own moments of disappointment in the way that Western countries have neglected crises that were existentially important to these players,” noted the ECFR report. “Talk of Western hypocrisy is most acutely visible in the differential treatment extended to refugees from Ukraine and Syria — but that is just the tip of the iceberg as far as many emerging powers are concerned.”

The report’s authors point to a broader reality not addressed by Biden in Warsaw — the prevalence of a more fragmented, fractured world that is hardly at sync with the geopolitical West. “The West may be more consolidated now, but it is not necessarily more influential in global politics,” they wrote. “The paradox is that this newfound unity is coinciding with the emergence of a post-Western world. The West has not disintegrated, but its consolidation has come at a moment when other powers will not simply do as it wishes.”

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