Leaders conferred mostly in private, limiting the number of people allowed in their meeting rooms to keep their sensitive plans closely held.
Biden comes out in favor of removing Russia from G20
It was the question that arose at every turn here in the capital of European diplomacy: Should Russia be permitted to remain in the Group of 20, one of the preeminent international summits representing the world’s developed economies?
It wasn’t a decision that could be made here, where only the leaders of NATO and the smaller — and more exclusive — Group of 7 were gathering for last-minute crisis talks on Ukraine. But it was an enticing prospect for leaders intent on isolating Russia for its invasion.
“My answer is yes,” Biden said during a news conference when asked about whether Russia should be removed. “It depends on the G20. That was raised today, and I raised the possibility that if that can’t be done — if Indonesia and others do not agree — then we should, in my view, ask to have … Ukraine be able to attend the meetings as well.”
Ultimately, expelling Russia from the G20 may be a bridge too far for some of the block’s members. China — another member of the G20, which includes not only democracies but authoritarian regimes as well — has opposed removing Russia.
Some of the leaders gathered here in Brussels have experience in this arena. In 2014, after Putin annexed Crimea, the G8 turned into the G7 when other members decided to suspend Russia’s membership.
US announces new sanctions on hundreds of Russians and moves to help Ukrainian refugees
Ordinarily, organizers of large leader summits have months to prepare the so-called “deliverables:” announcements for heads of state to make when the meeting concludes to show they were able to get something done.
This time, decisions were forced in only a matter of days on how best to demonstrate unity, support Ukraine and punish Russia. In some ways, the time crunch was evident; many of the announcements made Thursday were unilateral, rather than a single coordinated announcement.
Biden hoped to set a tone on sanctions by slapping restrictions on more than 300 members of the Russian Duma, the lower body of Parliament, and over 40 Russian defense companies.
Still, despite the hasty timetable the NATO alliance and the G7 released lengthy statements that often take weeks for all parties to agree to. And members all reiterated support for providing Ukraine with military and financial assistance, as well as bolstering NATO’s force presence along its eastern edge.
Biden and allied leaders still can’t — or won’t — meet Zelensky’s requests for planes
As the summit got underway Thursday morning, leaders heard a call for more help from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who addressed the gathering virtually.
He stopped short of issuing his usual request for a no-fly zone. But he did say Ukraine needs fighter jets, tanks and better air defenses: “You can give us 1% of all your planes. One percent of all your tanks. One percent.”
It was an emotional appeal that one senior US administration official described as “eloquent.” But it did not appear to move Western leaders off their deep reluctance to become more directly engaged in the conflict.
Following Zelensky’s remarks, a senior US official said the US is still opposed to providing fighter jets to Ukraine. Previously, US officials had said such a move could be viewed by Putin as an escalatory step.
Biden insisted that ruling out military action in Ukraine had not emboldened Putin, and he denied he’d been too quick to take such action off the table.
“No and no,” he said.
Biden promises a US response if Russia uses chemical weapons in Ukraine
Leaders had arrived in Brussels with a singular fear: that Putin would resort to using a chemical, biological or even nuclear weapon on the battlefield in Ukraine in order to unblock his stalled campaign.
Officials acknowledged the prospect would force NATO into a new posture, though when leaders were arriving here it was unclear what that might look like.
It remains unclear after Thursday’s meetings, though Biden affirmed the US would respond in some capacity to the use of chemical weapons.
“The nature of the response would depend on the nature of the use,” he said.
Behind the scenes, American officials are quietly mapping out the potential ways the US would respond should Putin take that type of extreme step.
And NATO members are determining what, exactly, would constitute an attack on one of their own, including use of a chemical weapon inside Ukraine whose toxic cloud drifts over its borders.
The G7 issued a warning in its final joint statement against such an action. And NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg — whose tenure was extended a year amid the current crisis — said use of a chemical weapon would fundamentally change the nature of the conflict.
Yet how the West would respond wasn’t evident, even as leaders began returning home Thursday evening.