As the US president left the White House for Europe, he had a clear answer to one of many troubling questions.
“How concerned are you about the threat of chemical warfare right now?”
“I think that’s a real threat,” the president replied.
NATO issues nuclear war warning to Moscow – live updates
Although he denies that he even possesses chemical weapons, Russia has shape.
Vladimir Putin helped Bashar al Assad in Syria drop chlorine bombs on Syrian civilians and from hotels in London to the streets of Salisbury, he used chemicals to poison his enemies in Europe.
The prospect of a Russian chemical attack in Ukraine is very real.
It’s one of many troubling issues facing Western leaders as they gather for an unprecedented trio of summits in Brussels.
The 30 member nations of NATO will meet, the 27 member countries of the European Union will meet and the seven leaders of the G7 will also meet.
Together, the gatherings are a clear reflection on the current state of peace and stability in Europe.
Kremlin-aligned media are now banned outside of Russia, but it’s worth looking up what they say.
Propagandists and pundits, many of whom are well-connected to the Kremlin, speculate on what their president should, could or do next.
“There is one simple thing we need to say to Europe,” political scientist Sergei Mikheyev told a panel discussion.
“You’ll get a nuclear strike if you put together some kind of NATO peacekeeping contingent…”
“Brave Poles, there will be nothing left of your Warsaw in 30 seconds,” he said.
Angry rhetorical nonsense? Hollow threats designed to scare; create a leverage effect?
Surely they know that a nuclear conflict is mutually assured destruction? The thing is, who can be sure right now.
Given the stakes, it is perhaps surprising that President Biden took so long to get to Europe.
A headline to be expected will be a remarkable doubling of troop numbers in Eastern Europe.
Four new NATO Battlegroups will be deployed in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.
One hundred thousand American soldiers will be stationed in Eastern Europe.
“The decisions we make [at this NATO summit] will have far-reaching implications…”, said General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg.
“We cannot take peace for granted.”
All of this is an inevitable reaction to such an unpredictable Russian aggression. But how will President Putin see it? Is it dangerously provocative?
Jens Stoltenberg, whose term can now be extended to ensure continuity, could not clearly answer the biggest questions.
How can NATO react to a nuclear strike, I asked him.
He paused for what seemed like a long time.
“Russia must stop its nuclear saber. It is dangerous and it is irresponsible. NATO is here to protect and defend all allies and we send a very clear message to Russia that a nuclear war cannot be won. and should never be conducted,” he said. mentioned.
The Russian Foreign Minister, speaking to a group of students in Russia, was anticipating NATO announcements.
On a suggestion from Poland that it could send a peacekeeping force to Ukraine, Sergei Lavrov said: “I hope they know what they are talking about. It will be this confrontation between the Russian armed forces and NATO that everyone not only wanted to avoid, but said it should never happen in the first place”.
There will be pressure at the top of the EU on nations like Germany to finally break away from Russian energy.
But that’s so much easier said than done.
“Yes, we will end this addiction as soon as possible,” said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
“But to do this overnight would mean plunging our country and all of Europe into recession, hundreds of thousands of jobs would be at risk. Whole branches of industry would be on the brink,” the Chancellor said.
The challenges seem overwhelming. There are so many scary scenarios.
And the stark reality is that nothing the West has done so far has ended Vladimir Putin’s war.