© Reuters. US President Joe Biden looks down as he hosts a virtual roundtable on critical mineral insurance at the White House in Washington, DC, USA, February 22, 2022. REUTERS / Kevin Lamarque
Authors: Steve Holland and Jarrett Renshaw
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – US President Joe Biden wanted to spend 2022 building bridges, literally and metaphorically, in the United States. Instead, it faces a drag into a crisis sparked by Russian President Vladimir Putin that could reshape Europe.
Collaborators say Biden, who just a month ago put forward a plan to tackle his poll backlog in U.S. election year by leaving the White House to “look people in the eye” across America, is now deeply immersed in detail the foreign policy challenge of Russia and Ukraine, not the election cycle, say associates.
“He is not talking about politics,” a senior administration official said. “He’s very focused on his conversation with foreign leaders, or who he’s going to talk to next, or he says ‘I have to call the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the phone, or call Tony (Blinken, Secretary of State) and tell him what to say.’ He is extremely involved in directing every detail here. “
In an election year when the party that controls the White House usually loses seats in Congress, the shadow of politics is there, whether the White House wants it or not, strategists of both parties say.
Biden said that American soldiers will not go to Ukraine, and American voters usually do not vote based on events abroad. But a disruption in energy supplies from Russia to Europe could cause a dizzying jump in gasoline prices in the United States, adding to the pain Americans are already feeling because of the highest inflation rate in 40 years.
“If Russia invades and it’s a rapid invasion and it’s only a matter of days, then it’s obviously better than a long-term effort because oil prices will not be disrupted in the long run,” said Democratic strategist Bud Jackson.
Biden portrayed Ukrainian tensions as part of a global struggle between autocracy and democracy. If the United States and Western allies can repel Putin and support an independent Ukraine while keeping US forces out of the fight, it is likely to improve his popularity, said Democratic strategist Steve Elmendorf.
“If he shows strength and competence, we hope it will improve his numbers – and the most important thing for Democrats in November is to have better numbers,” Elmendorf said. But Elmendorf said he believes much of the mood in the country will depend less on Ukraine and more on whether people feel they are recovering from the COVID-19 crisis.
Putin’s apparent determination to dominate independent Ukraine means the crisis could last for weeks, months or longer. If Biden is seen as stumbling in resolving the issue, Republicans who have focused on obstructing Biden’s COVID policy and legislative agenda amid their party conflicts are likely to redouble their efforts to portray the president as weak and too passive to oppose Putin.
“This situation in Ukraine has become a real distraction for Biden,” said Republican strategist Scott Reed. “It took him away from the issues that voters cared about: inflation, gas prices, borders.”
INFLATION IS ‘HUGE’
globally, it is around $ 100 per barrel, the highest since September 2014. Russia is the world’s third largest oil producer, behind Saudi Arabia and the United States and a significant supplier to Europe.
The Biden administration is not expected to target the Russian oil and gas sector due to concerns about inflation and the damage it could inflict on its European allies, according to interviews with experts and administration officials.
“Inflation is a major concern. You have a region in Europe where there is an inflation crisis and you want to make it worse,” said Sara Emerson (NYSE :), president of Energy Security Analysis, Inc., a global consulting firm.
Biden carefully included warnings to Americans about the possibility of higher energy prices added to a speech he gave Tuesday to ensure Americans understand how the conflict could affect them, aides said.
His team is a veteran of then-President Barack Obama’s experience with Russia and Ukraine in 2014, including White House officials Jake Sullivan and Jon Finner, Eric Green and Amanda Sloat, and West West press secretary Jen Psaki, and two chief national security aides for vice president. Kamala Harris, Nancy McEldowney and Phil Gordon, believe they learned from their mistakes.
A former senior Obama aide said the immediate response was stronger than what Obama did in 2014, when Putin annexed Crimea despite US warnings.
“He definitely looks more intense,” said the assistant, who asked not to be identified to speak freely. It’s “because we learned, we land, and a lot of the people involved now were involved back then,” he said.