WASHINGTON – Two weeks after President Biden’s inauguration, French President Emmanuel Macron has spoken publicly about the importance of dialogue with Moscow, saying Russia is part of Europe that cannot simply be avoided and that l ‘Europe must be strong enough to defend its own interests.
On December 30, just weeks before the inauguration, the European Union concluded a major investment agreement with China, days after a tweet by Mr Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, calling for “early consultations” with Europe on China and appearing to warn of a quick deal.
So even as the United States resets under the new White House leadership, Europe is charting its own course on Russia and China in a way that doesn’t necessarily align with Mr. Biden’s goals, this which poses a challenge as the new US president sets out to rebuild a post. -Trump alliance with the continent.
On Friday, Biden will address the Munich Security Conference, a gathering of leaders and diplomats from Europe and the United States he has attended for decades and which has helped solidify his reputation as a champion of transatlantic solidarity.
Speaking at the conference two years ago, Biden lamented the damage the Trump administration had inflicted on the once strong post-war relationship between Washington and major European capitals. “That too will pass,” Biden said. “We will be back.” He pledged that the United States would “take up our leadership responsibility again.”
The president’s remarks on Friday are sure to repeat that promise and highlight his now familiar call for a more unified Western front against undemocratic threats posed by Russia and China. In many ways, such a speech will surely be received as a warm massage by European leaders tense and shocked by four years of mercurial and often contemptuous diplomacy from President Donald J. Trump.
But if by ‘leadership’ Mr Biden means a return to the traditional American hypothesis – we decide and you follow – many Europeans feel that this world is gone and that Europe should not behave like the young American winger in the fights defined by Washington.
Demonstrated by the European Union’s trade deal with China and by the conciliatory talks on Moscow of leaders like Mr. Macron and the next German Chancellor Armin Laschet, Europe has its own interests and ideas on how to handle the two main rivals of the United States. , those that will complicate Mr. Biden’s diplomacy.
“Biden signals an incredibly hawkish approach by Russia, joining it with China and defining a new global cold war against authoritarianism,” said Jeremy Shapiro, research director at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
This makes many European leaders nervous, he said. And other regional experts said they saw fewer signs of overt enthusiasm from the continent than officials in the Biden administration might have hoped for.
“There was always a clear recognition that we weren’t going to just be able to show up and say, ‘Hey guys, we’re back!’” Said Andrea Kendall-Taylor, who was in line to become the National Security Council director for Russia but who did not accept the post for personal reasons.
“But even with all of this, I think there was optimism that it would be easier than it looks,” said Ms. Kendall-Taylor, director of the transatlantic security program at the Center. for a New American Security. .
Ulrich Speck, senior researcher at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin, added: “After the freeze in relations under Trump, I expected more warming. I don’t see it yet.
Mr. Biden quickly took many of the easiest steps towards reconciliation and unity with Europe, including the return of the Paris climate agreement, the renewed emphasis on multilateralism and human rights and the pledge to join the disintegrating 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
But lining up against Russia and China will be much more difficult.
China may be a rival to the United States, but it has long been a vital trading partner for Europe. And while European leaders see Beijing as a rival and a systemic competitor, they also see it as a partner and hardly see it as an enemy.
And Russia remains a nuclear-weapon neighbor, as earthy as it is, and has its own financial and emotional resources.
Since Mr. Biden was last in the White House, as Vice President under the Obama administration, Britain, historically the most trusted diplomatic partner of the United States, has left the European Union and now coordinates foreign policy less effectively with its continental allies.
“This sophisticated British view of the world is missing,” said Nicholas Burns, former Under Secretary of State and Ambassador to NATO in the George W. Bush administration. “I don’t think the United States is still linked to Europe, diplomatically and strategically,” he added.
This week’s security conference is not led by the German government, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be speaking at it, along with Mr Biden, Mr Macron and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. And Germany itself illustrates some of the problems the Biden administration will face in its efforts to lock the guns against Moscow.
Ms Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Party has chosen Mr Laschet as their leader, and he is their likely candidate to succeed him in the fall elections. But Mr. Laschet is more sympathetic than Mr. Biden to both Russia and China. He cast doubt on the scale of Russia’s political disinformation and hacking operations and publicly criticized “marketable anti-Putin populism.” He has also been a strong supporter of Germany’s export-oriented economy, which relies heavily on China.
Germany still intends to commission the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a 746 mile natural gas artery that runs under the Baltic Sea from northern Russia to Germany. The paired pipelines belong to Gazprom, which is owned by Russia. Work on the project was halted last year – with 94% of the pipes laid – after the US Congress imposed new sanctions on the project on the grounds that it had helped fund the Kremlin, damaged Ukraine and donated to Russia the potential to manipulate Europe’s energy supply.
Last year, German politicians responded to threats of economic punishment from Republican US senators by citing “blackmail”, “economic war” and “neo-imperialism”. Many want to complete the pipeline project, but on Tuesday White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Mr Biden opposed it as a “bad deal” that divided Europe and made it more vulnerable to Russian betrayal.
Despite the sanctions, the Russian ships have renewed the laying of the pipes and Merkel defends the project as a commercial enterprise and not as a geopolitical declaration. The Germans argue that European Union energy regulations and new pipeline configurations reduce Russia’s ability to manipulate supplies and that Russia is more dependent on revenue than Europe is on gas.
There are signs that, as with the China deal, the Biden administration wants to move forward and negotiate a solution with Germany, to remove a major irritant with a crucial ally. This could include, some suggest, take-back sanctions if Moscow diverts supplies or interrupts transit charges to Ukraine.
In France, Mr. Macron has long sought to develop a more positive dialogue with Mr. Putin, but his “reset” efforts have come to naught. European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell Fontelles attempted something similar this month with embarrassing results when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov humiliated him during a press conference and called the European Union an “unreliable partner”.
With the attempted assassination and then imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, Mr Borrell’s treatment means Brussels is likely to impose further sanctions on Russia, but not before month’s end of March, and will be more open. to Mr. Biden’s suggestions for a tougher line.
Biden administration officials say coordinating with a shattered Europe has never been easy, and its leaders welcome the reestablishment of US leadership – especially over a more apparent Chinese threat to Europe than five years ago. years.
On China and the investment deal, after seven years of difficult talks, European officials have championed it as an effort to gain the same access to the Chinese market for their companies that US companies had obtained in the part of Mr. Trump’s deal with China last year.
“There is no reason for us to suffer from an uneven playing field, including vis-à-vis the United States,” Sabine Weyand, EU trade director general, said in a forum virtual in early February. “Why should we stay seated?”
Ms. Weyand said the deal sets high standards for Chinese business practices, which would ultimately put the United States and Europe “in a stronger position to have a more assertive policy together on China.”
The deal, however, needs to be ratified by the European Parliament, which has criticized its failure to guarantee more workers’ rights, and is unlikely to end up in a vote much later this year. And, again, officials in the Biden administration seem keen to move forward, given the importance of cooperation with Europe on China.
“The deal could potentially complicate transatlantic cooperation on China,” said Wendy Cutler, former US trade negotiator and vice president of the Asia Society Policy Institute, “but I don’t think that’s going to prevent it.”
Michael crowley reported from Washington, and Steven erlanger from Brussels. Ana Swanson contributed to the Washington report.