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Joe Biden will defend democracy on his first trip abroad

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WASHINGTON: Joe Biden will fight what he calls a “defining” battle for democracy on his first overseas presidential trip, meeting with America’s top allies in Europe before a rocky summit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
The busy schedule, with the G7, NATO and European Union summits ahead of Putin’s Geneva meeting, will see Biden fly the flag of a West that he sees at a “tipping point.”
“This is a question that defines our time,” Biden wrote in The Washington Post before his trip.
“Will the democratic alliances and institutions that shaped much of the last century prove their ability against today’s threats and adversaries? I think the answer is yes. And this week in Europe, we have a chance to prove it.”
Biden’s speech marks a return to a traditional American worldview after four years during which Donald Trump flirted with autocrats and recast multilateralism as a dirty word.
Biden meets with G7 partners (Great Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan) from Friday to Sunday at a seaside resort in south-west England, then visits Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle.
From there he flies to Brussels for NATO on June 14 and the EU meeting on June 15, before heading to see Putin, whom Biden recently characterized as a “murderer” in Switzerland.
That choreography, by far the most intense travel program since he took office for 78 years, is designed to send a clear message to Putin: Biden will represent a democratic bloc, not just the United States.
“He will come to this meeting with the wind in his favor,” said national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
– Avoiding ‘chaos’ – Trump argued that the United States cannot afford to be the world’s policeman, an isolationist stance popular with its voters.
But as the world emerges from the coronavirus disaster, Biden is positioning the United States as the lynchpin for sharing vaccines and ensuring economic recovery. It has re-entered nuclear talks with Iran and has regained leadership on the planet’s climate crisis.
“America is back,” says Biden’s mantra. The alternative, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Axios, is China taking over or even “chaos.”
Still reeling from Trump’s shock, European partners may view Biden’s votes with skepticism.
There was friction last month when Washington blocked French attempts by the United Nations to demand a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Biden’s surge in vaccine donations around the world also follows what critics saw as a long period of build-up.
Biden’s meeting on NATO guidelines with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promises to be especially thorny.
Biden has upset Erdogan, sometimes an ally of Trump, by highlighting Turkey’s dire human rights and by acknowledging the Ottoman Empire’s genocide against Armenians. Washington runs the risk of “losing a precious friend,” Erdogan warned.
– ‘More stable?’ – In his first three summits, Biden can at least be sure of a friendly audience. Not so much in Geneva.
Blinken said the White House’s main goal with Russia does not go beyond making relations “more stable.”
The White House sees the extension of the New START nuclear weapons treaty in February as an example of where business can be done. Biden also needs the Kremlin to move forward with Iran, which is close to Russia.
However, the list of tensions is much longer.
Biden blames Russia for the massive cyber attack SolarWinds, election interference, and at least for harboring the criminals behind ransomware attacks against the vital colonial gas pipeline and the US subsidiary of Brazilian meat-packing giant JBS.
Biden will also pressure Putin on the saber rattling on the Ukrainian border, the imprisonment of opponent Alexei Navalny and his support for Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian strongman who forced a Ryanair plane to land in Minsk and later arrested an opponent in the flight.
Sullivan said Putin’s summit was taking place “not despite the differences of our countries” but “because of the differences of our countries.”
Russian expectations are equally low, said Dmitry Suslov, a professor at HSE Moscow University.
“We shouldn’t expect any kind of reboot between the United States and Russia,” he said. “Relationships will continue to be conflictive.”
Despite his tough talk, Biden faces limitations, as illustrated by the US decision to lift sanctions aimed at halting the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will now feed Germany with Russian natural gas.
Regardless of how the Biden-Putin meeting goes, it is unlikely to end the kind of performance Trump made in 2018 after meeting with the Kremlin leader in Helsinki.
Trump surprised even his own loyal Republicans by saying that he believed Putin more than his own American intelligence agencies that Russia had not interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
This time, the idea of ​​a joint Biden-Putin press conference is up in the air.
“I know we will make available to President Biden,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “I certainly hope that my Russian counterparts will make President Putin available.”
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