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Biden heads to Europe this week, more sanctions against Russia on the table

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

President Biden has landed in Brussels ahead of a packed day of meetings aimed at presenting a united front in opposition to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. National security adviser Jake Sullivan gave a preview on the flight over on Air Force One.

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JAKE SULLIVAN: What we would like to hear is that the resolve and unity that we've seen for the past month will endure for as long as it takes. That's at a top line.

SUMMERS: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is in Brussels and will be in the press pool tomorrow, following the president as he meets with allies. Hey, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hi, Juana.

SUMMERS: Hey. Can you just run us through all of these meetings that are on the president's packed schedule, and also tell us about what he hopes to accomplish?

KEITH: Well, the president starts at NATO headquarters. This is a meeting with the 30 members. And it's come together at the last minute, really, to focus on Russia's invasion of Ukraine. This discussion will focus on defense. Individual members are supplying weapons and assistance to Ukraine as it defends itself against Russia. And the alliance, together, is fortifying countries on its eastern flank as a deterrence to further Russian aggression. Then Biden is meeting with the G-7 leading economies. They're talking about sanctions on Russia. And then finally, he'll go to a European Council meeting, which will be more focused on the humanitarian needs of the Ukrainian people and refugees. And you can expect a flurry of announcements tomorrow about sanctions on Russia and aid to Ukraine. And finally, there will be a press conference.

SUMMERS: All right. NATO is a military alliance. And you mentioned fortifying the eastern flank, countries like Poland. What else are these leaders going to be talking about?

KEITH: Well, they're going to announce more troop rotations on the southern edge of NATO's eastern flank. And NATO leaders will be talking about a more long-term shift in its defense posture. Sullivan said they will also be running through various contingencies, like what if Russia launches a cyberattack on the U.S. or a NATO ally? What if Putin uses chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine or escalates that conflict in some other way? You know, heading into this conflict, analysts I've spoken to say Russia's Putin thought NATO was wobbly. But this war is at Europe's door, and it has really brought focus. And President Biden arrives at this meeting bringing all the symbolism of an American president, standing up and endorsing Article 5 of the NATO charter - that is that an attack on one is an attack on all. Ian Lesser is with The German Marshall Fund of the U.S. based here in Brussels.

IAN LESSER: Given the experience in the Trump years when there were questions about American reliability in NATO - and the European Union as an institution wasn't taken very seriously - this administration takes both institutions very seriously. And I think this is a tangible demonstration of that.

SUMMERS: Tam, what else can you tell us about these sanctions?

KEITH: Sullivan said that there would be individual sanctions targeting political leaders and oligarchs. He didn't get into the specifics, but there are reports that hundreds of members of the Russian Duma, its Parliament, will be slapped with sanctions that could freeze up their funds. But more broadly, he said the G-7 leaders are going to announce measures to crack down on sanctions evasion. Hagar Chemali used to work at the Treasury Department on sanctions, and that's still her focus. She told me even if the sanctions announced tomorrow aren't blockbusters, the larger message is projecting unity.

HAGAR CHEMALI: When it comes to changing Putin's behavior, we have to remember that sanctions are just one prong of that strategy. And sanctions are not going to be the silver bullet to change Putin's behavior. It's the entire strategy that will.

KEITH: That includes beefing up Ukraine's military, building military strength in Europe and moving Europe away from dependence on Russian oil and gas.

SUMMERS: That is NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith in Brussels. Thank you.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.