US President Joe Biden has arrived in Europe today, kicking off the first overseas trip of his presidency. Before leaving, the ever-so-eloquent chief executive told reporters the goals for his trip to Europe will be “strengthening the alliance, making it clear to Putin and to China that Europe and the United States are tight.” Upon his arrival in Great Britain, Biden addressed US airmen at RAF Mildenhall and spoke further on the intended purpose of his European trip. Specifically with regards to Russia and his scheduled meeting with Vladimir Putin on 16 June in Geneva.
Before Geneva comes the G7 summit in Cornwall, England which will take place this coming weekend. The stated goal of the Biden administration has been to use the summit as a launching point to mend relations with European allies and roll back the rhetoric and actions of the Trump presidency that allegedly placed undue pressure on the US relationship with Europe. Climate change, creating a unified front in the face of China’s growing influence around the world, and the coming withdrawal of US and European troops from Afghanistan. The Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline will almost certainly come up in discussions. The US remains opposed to the pipeline in spite of Germany’s support for it. There is concern in Washington that the heavy German involvement in Nord Stream 2 can be used by Russia to drive a wedge into NATO in the event of a future crisis.
Between the G7 summit and Geneva, Biden will spend some time in Brussels at NATO headquarters. China and Russia will be discussed in deeper detail there, and the president is expected to press America’s NATO partners to contribute more to the common defense. This is hardly a new request and it is one that Biden’s predecessor addressed effectively. It will be interesting to see how NATO reacts to the new president and his somewhat recycled concepts and notions about NATO’s role in the future.
The crisis continuing to develop in and around Ukraine is a multilayered creature.
The past week has seen tensions escalating in eastern Ukraine, as well as a resumption of low intensity fighting there. Ukrainian forces and Russian-supported separatists have been involved in a series of engagements in violation of the ceasefire. Meanwhile, on the other side of the border a sizeable buildup of Russian land forces continues. Another buildup of forces is also going on in Crimea, which could very well become the centerpiece of the emerging crisis. The Ukrainian government has sounded the alarm over the buildup and some NATO nations have started to take notice of the situation around the border and respond.
NATO has insisted that Russia is engaged in efforts to undermine efforts to reduce the tension in eastern Ukraine. US European Command has raised the alert level of US forces in Europe in response to developments in the east. On Friday, US President Joe Biden spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and affirmed the US commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Apparently, a new buildup of forces is now going on along Ukraine’s northern borders with Russia, and according to certain sources, Belarus as well. If these reports are accurate it all but confirms that Russia is moving to apply overwhelming physical pressure on the Ukrainian government, at the very least. It is obvious what the worst-case scenario would be in this instance.
Finally, there is Crimea. The peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014 is in the throes of a water crisis at present. For months now, cities and towns in Crimea have been rationing water. Despite being surrounded on three sides by water, Crimea has always had to rely on outside sources for clean water. The Northern Crimea Canal was completed in 1971 and diverted water to Crimea from a reservoir in southern Ukraine. Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Ukrainian officials wasted little time in blocking the canal, which was providing 85% of the peninsula’s drinking water at the time. The lack of water has been affected by the large numbers of Russian citizens relocating to Crimea since 2014. At present, the water situation is becoming critical and could play a role in Russia’s strategic planning and political plans in the coming weeks ahead.