Solidarity behind Ukraine’s Russia fight atop summit agendas
Back-to-back world leader summits in Europe opening this weekend will focus on uniting Western nations behind Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s invasion and overcoming Turkey’s opposition to NATO membership for Finland and Sweden.
The Group of Seven leading economic powers — the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan — are set to hold their annual gathering Sunday through Tuesday in the Bavarian Alps in Germany, which holds the G-7’s rotating presidency this year.
After the G-7 concludes, leaders of the 30 countries in the NATO alliance will then gather for their annual summit, which is being held Wednesday through Thursday in Madrid.
A look at some of the key issues and themes on the table as President Joe Biden prepares to join both summits:
Russia’s war in Ukraine will loom large over both summits as leaders seek to project a united front against Kremlin aggression that has devastated Ukraine and plunged Europe and much of the world into economic and other crises.
Nations represented at the back-to-back gatherings have sent billions of dollars in aid and arms to Ukraine and closed ranks in their strident condemnation of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion.
Ukraine got another boost Thursday when European Union leaders swiftly and unanimously approved its application to become a candidate to join the 27-nation bloc, though the process of joining will likely take years.
The United States and European Union have imposed damaging economic sanctions on Moscow and Putin’s oligarchs, but major markets including China and India continue to buy Russian oil, watering down the effects of Western sanctions.
NATO FOR FINLAND AND SWEDEN
A major unresolved issue for the NATO summit is membership for Finland and Sweden.
Russia’s war in Ukraine spooked both Nordic countries enough that they abandoned long-held neutrality policies and applied to join the military alliance. All 30 member nations must sign off on the applications. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg supports the bid, and Biden demonstrated his strong backing by hosting both countries’ leaders in the Oval Office.
But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan so far has stalled their quick admission, objecting to membership and pressing both countries to alter their stance on Kurdish rebels that Turkey considers terrorists.
All sides have been trying to find a way through the impasse, but whether Erdogan’s concerns can be addressed to his satisfaction in Madrid remained an open question. Sweden and Finland were invited and are expected to attend.
Founded to contain the Soviet Union, NATO is set to declare for the first time that confronting China’s rise is also part of its mission.
In Madrid, the alliance will unveil a new “Strategic Concept,” the first update to its guiding principles since 2010, that explicitly references addressing challenges from China. The alliance also has invited Pacific leaders from Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia to the summit.
The document marks a significant milestone in efforts by the U.S., under multiple presidents, to expand the alliance’s focus to China, even in the face an increasingly bellicose Russia.
The Biden administration maintains that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has “firmed up” democracies on the threats from autocracies in both Moscow and Beijing.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin accuses NATO of trying to “start a new Cold War” and warned against the alliance “drawing ideological lines which may induce confrontation.”
Leaders of the G-7 economies will consider backing a package of new climate change measures that senior officials agreed to last month. These effectively require countries to quit burning coal for electricity by 2035, transparently report on their fossil fuel subsidies and ensure electric cars dominate new auto sales by the end of the decade.
Senior G-7 officials also acknowledged for the first time the need to provide developing countries with additional financial aid to cope with the loss and damage already happening because of global warming. Wealthy nations have long resisted such a move, fearing they could be on the hook for costly compensation payments for decades of greenhouse gas emissions.
Poor countries want the G-7 to commit actual money, having seen past pledges for $100 billion in climate aid by 2020 go unfulfilled.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz hopes they will also back his idea for an international “climate club” whose members would agree on minimum standards to avoid a patchwork of rules and emissions-related tariffs.
Efforts to tackle climate change have been dealt a blow by the war in Ukraine and the resulting energy crisis, with countries scrambling to tap new sources of fossil fuel and make up shortfalls from Russia. Campaigners fear that G-7 leaders could water down some of the language they’ve previously agreed to, or even backtrack on existing commitments, so as to justify new oil and gas exploration projects.
Russia sees Europe’s need for natural gas as a wedge issue that could weaken the alliance backing Ukraine. That means Biden must bring as much liquefied natural gas from the U.S. to Europe as possible, which requires new terminals for shipping. Natural gas prices in the U.S. futures markets are up roughly 70% so far this year.
Russia is also a major oil producer, and the war has sent global benchmark prices up about 40% so far this year, causing higher gasoline prices in the U.S. and around the world.
Biden views near $5-a-gallon gas in the U.S. as a risk for fellow Democrats heading into the midterm elections, a preview of the risks European leaders could face this winter due to natural gas costs.
Shortages of natural gas and higher prices are putting tremendous financial pressure on Germany, Italy, Austria, Netherlands, Poland, Bulgaria, Finland, the Czech Republic and Denmark, among others.
Russia has cut exports of natural gas needed to generate electricity and provide heating, causing Germany, which has relied on Russia for 35% of its gas imports, to call on factories to cut power usage and shift toward coal as an energy source.
Summit participants will also discuss how Russia’s war is affecting global food security.
Russia is blocking about 20 million tons of Ukrainian grain from being shipped to the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Asia, potentially worsening hunger and food security in those regions. A global fertilizer shortage is also of concern.
In response, Western powers have pledged billions of dollars in assistance. The U.N. has been working on a deal that would enable Ukraine to export food, including via the Black Sea, and let Russia bring food and fertilizer to world markets without restrictions.
To deliver Ukraine’s food supplies to the world, Europe is also looking to increase shipments by railroads and trucks, but their efforts have made up for only a fraction of the Black Sea ports capacity.
Russia blames Western sanctions for the crisis, although the measures imposed by Europeans do not prohibit the import and transportation of Russian agricultural goods or payment for Russian imports.
GLOBAL INFLATION AND THE ECONOMY
The repercussions of higher food and energy costs appear likely to tip much of Europe into a recession, creating a troubling dynamic as Germany and other countries juggle both high inflation and the risks of a severe downturn.
G-7 leaders likely will focus on how to simultaneously encourage growth while also reducing inflation, a unique challenge as central banks raise interest rates to slow economic activity.
The value of the euro has tumbled over the past year relative to the U.S. dollar as multiple reports point to a slowdown taking hold.
Biden, meanwhile, also is fending off predictions by top economists that a U.S. recession is likely. He told The Associated Press in an interview last week that a downturn is “not inevitable.”
But avoiding a recession would require the Federal Reserve to raise its benchmark interest rates in order to pull inflation down from a 40-year high without causing a spike in unemployment.
Biden will arrive at both summits in a different place politically than he was last year.
He is trailed to Europe by a U.S. public approval rating in the high 30s — the lowest of his presidency — and with consumers complaining about sticker shock at the grocery and gas pump. He also faces the prospect of his party losing control of Congress in November’s elections.
Biden will face pressure from abortion rights advocates to act after the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court on Friday overturned its landmark Roe v. Wade decision, ending constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years.
Some of Biden’s counterparts are in similar straits.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is weakened after surviving a recent no-confidence vote. He suffered fresh blows this week when voters rejected his Conservative Party in two special elections and the party chairman quit after the results were announced.
French President Emmanuel Macron overcame a strong challenge from a far-right rival to win reelection in April, but his centrist alliance later failed to win an absolute majority in parliamentary elections.
Associated Press writers Josh Boak and Zeke Miller in Washington, Frank Jordans in Berlin, Mike Corder and Samuel Petrequin in Brussels, and Joe McDonald in Beijing contributed to this report.