President Joe Biden on Friday announced a new initiative meant to deprive Russian President Vladimir Putin of European energy profits that Biden says are used to fuel Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Speaking in Brussels alongside European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Biden said Russia was using its supply of oil and gas to “coerce and manipulate its neighbors.” He said the United States would help Europe reduce its dependence on Russian oil and gas, and would ensure the continent had enough supplies for the next two winters. The announcement came just before Biden departed Brussels for Poland.
“It’s going to take some time to adjust gas supply chains and infrastructure that (were) built for the last decade so we’re going to have to make sure the families in Europe can get through this winter and the next while we’re building an infrastructure for a diversified, resilient and clean energy future,” Biden said.
Biden and von der Leyen announced a joint task force meant to help wean Europe from its dependence on Russian oil and gas. The panel, chaired by representatives from the White House and the European Commission, will be aimed toward finding alternative supplies of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and reducing overall demand for natural gas moving forward.
Europe’s dependence on Russian gas and oil has proved a major sticking point in western efforts to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine. While the US banned Russian energy imports, Europe found it far more difficult to cut off its supplies.
“I know that eliminating Russian gas will have costs for Europe, but it’s not only the right thing to do from a moral standpoint, it’s going to put us on a much stronger strategic footing,” he said.
The US will work toward supplying Europe with at least 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas in 2022, in partnership with other nations, the White House said. The group will also work toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions through reducing methane emissions and using clean energy to power operations.
Senior administration officials said the 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas come from multiple sources, including the United States and nations in Asia. But officials did not have an exact breakdown on where the gas was coming from. The announcement Friday was the culmination of a US effort over the past months to identify alternate sources of energy for Europe, particularly in Asia. Officials said those efforts would continue through this year to hit the target.
One official said weaning Europe from Russian energy amounted to “replacing an unreliable supplier of LNG with a much more reliable supplier in the US.”
“This crisis also presents an opportunity. It’s a catalyst,” Biden said. “A catalyst that will drive the investments we need to double down on our clean energy goals and accelerate progress towards our net zeroes emissions future.”
Friday’s major energy announcement came during the President’s last stop in Brussels, before he traveled to Poland.
After arriving at Rzeszów-Jasionka Airport in Poland later Friday, Biden is expected to receive a briefing on the humanitarian response to the war.
During his visit he met with service members from the 82nd Airborne Division in Rzeszów, even enjoying some pizza with the troops.
“I just wanted to come by and say thanks. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,” Biden said as he walked into a cafeteria adding, “it’s not hyperbole to suggest, you are the finest fighting force in the world … in the history of the world.”
Biden then noted that the pizza the soldiers were eating looked good and said, “Well if you’re starting to eat. I’m gonna sit down and have something to eat. Is that all right?”
The President then enjoyed pizza with the soldiers speaking to them individually for several minutes.
On Saturday, the White House says Biden will hold a bilateral meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda to discuss how the US and allies are responding to the refugee crisis that has ensued as a result of the war. The White House has confirmed Biden will also meet with Ukrainian refugees and with American humanitarians in Poland. And he’ll deliver remarks, billed by the White House as a major address, before returning to Washington.
The White House has said the Poland visit is intended to highlight the massive refugee crisis that has ensued since Russia’s war in Ukraine began a month ago.
More than 3.5 million refugees have now fled Ukraine, according to data from the United Nations refugee agency released on Tuesday. A vast majority of those refugees have fled to Ukraine’s western neighbors across Europe.
Poland, which borders Ukraine to the west, has registered more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees crossing into the country. However, the number of refugees staying in Poland is lower, with many continuing on in their journey to other countries.
Earlier this month during Vice President Kamala Harris’ trip to Poland, Duda personally asked the vice president to speed up and simplify the procedures allowing Ukrainians with family in the US to come to the country. He also warned Harris that his country’s resources were being badly strained by the influx of refugees, even as Poland welcomes them with open arms.
The White House says that since February 24, the US has provided more than $123 million to assist countries neighboring Ukraine and the European Union to address the refugee influx, including $48 million in Poland.
During a news conference on Thursday, Biden told reporters he didn’t think getting a firsthand look at the refugee crisis while in Poland would necessarily change his response.
“What it will do (is) it will reinforce my commitment to have the United States make sure we are a major piece of dealing with the relocation of all those folks, as well as humanitarian assistance needed both inside Ukraine and outside Ukraine,” the President said.
Biden brought up that he has visited war zones, saying he understood the plight of refugees.
“I’ve been in refugee camps. I’ve been in war zones for the last 15 years. And it’s – it’s devastating,” he said.
Biden also said the refugee influx is “not something that Poland or Romania or Germany should carry on their own.”
“This is an international responsibility. And the United States, as … one of the leaders in the international community, has an obligation to be engaged – to be engaged and do all we can to ease the suffering and pain of innocent women and children, and men, for that matter, throughout – throughout Ukraine and those who have made it across the border,” Biden continued.
He also said at the time that he was looking forward to possibly meeting with refugees in Poland, an agenda item on the trip that had not yet been announced by the White House.
The White House on Friday also sought to clarify another comment Biden made during Thursday’s news conference – when he said he would respond “in kind” if Russia used chemical weapons in Ukraine.
En route to Poland aboard Air Force One, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the US response to a potential chemical weapons attack by Russia would be done in coordination with allies. Sullivan would not say what the response would entail, but said that Russia would pay a “severe price” and emphasized that “the United States has no intention of using chemical weapons, period – under any circumstances.”
The Poland trip also comes two weeks after the US rejected Poland’s proposals to facilitate the transfer its MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine.
The US rejected Poland’s proposals over fears that the US and NATO could be perceived as taking an escalatory step, further fomenting conflict between the alliance and Russia – which adamantly opposes Ukraine’s ambitions to join the NATO alliance.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly requested more aircraft for the invasion, making another appeal to NATO leaders on Thursday.
During a virtual address Thursday, Zelensky asked NATO members for “1% of all your planes,” later adding, “You have thousands of fighter jets, but we have not been given one yet.”
Despite Zelensky’s plea, a senior US official told CNN later on Thursday that the US position on the fighter jet issue has not changed.
This story has been updated with additional developments on Friday.