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Biden's Trip to Europe Carries High Stakes for the War in Ukraine

There are growing concerns Russia may escalate the war

President Joe Biden had his hands full when he walked out the White House to start his four-day swing through Europe. Two cell phones were stacked together in one hand; a pair of his signature aviator sunglasses in the other. Over the thumping rotors of the waiting Marine One helicopter, a reporter asked Biden if he's concerned about Russia using chemical weapons in Ukraine. "I think it's a real threat," Biden said, turning toward the spinning blades of the chopper and putting on the sunglasses.

The stakes are high for Biden’s trip. There are growing concerns inside the White House that Russia may escalate the war and cause massive civilian casualties in Kyiv or in the coastal city of Mariupol, which Russia has been shelling for weeks. The U.S. has pushed back against requests for North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries to enforce a no-fly zone in Ukraine over worries that such direct combat could escalate into a broader war. But experts warn that a Russian escalation inside Ukraine could change that calculus for Western allies.

In the meetings in Europe on March 24 and 25, Biden will discuss Moscow’s potential use of chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, how countries should respond to possible Russian cyber attacks, and how to deal with recent Russian rhetoric on nuclear weapons. He’s attending an emergency summit at NATO headquarters in Belgium and meeting with leaders of G7 countries and the European Union. Before returning to the U.S., Biden will visit President Andrzej Duda in Warsaw, Poland, on the eastern edge of the NATO alliance. Poland, which shares a border with Ukraine and Russia’s ally Belarus, has borne the shockwaves of Russia’s month-long war, taking in 3 million refugees and becoming the main pathway of weapons moving through to bolster Ukrainian defenses.

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