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The U.S. and allies plan to step up sanctions on Russia over its war in Ukraine

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Keeping the allies united has been one of President Biden's key objectives in the response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Now three weeks into the conflict, he is traveling to Brussels for a series of meetings. His goal - maintain the unity and intensify the consequences for Russia. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us from Brussels.

President Biden is going to attend an emergency NATO summit, G-7 meeting and also speak to the European Council. Tamara, that's all in one day. So what do you expect to come out of these meetings?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: You know, this is the latest push to try to keep Western leaders moving in lockstep on this crisis. We've seen the president be very deliberate in his moves on sanctions to make sure that everyone was on the same page before announcing new moves. And at times, that has opened him up to criticism from members of Congress for not moving as quickly as they would like.

Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, told us yesterday that Biden plans to stay the course and that the leaders will announce more sanctions.

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JAKE SULLIVAN: He will join our partners in imposing further sanctions on Russia and tightening the existing sanctions to crack down on evasion and to ensure robust enforcement. He will work with allies on longer term adjustments to NATO force posture on the eastern flank. He will announce joint action on enhancing European energy security and reducing Europe's dependence on Russian gas at long last.

KEITH: We've also been told to expect more humanitarian assistance to be announced for Ukrainians still inside the country and those who have fled. Two more things that Biden wants to talk to leaders about - China's close relationship with Russia and whether Russia should be allowed to stay in the G-20. That's one of those groups of the world's biggest economies. You'll recall that Russia was kicked out of what was the G-8 after it annexed Crimea in 2014.

MARTINEZ: Now, there's some symbolism here - an American president going to Europe as a war rages on. And we know President Biden has been holding calls with these leaders for months. What does it say that he's actually going to be there in person?

KEITH: There's a moment at the beginning of all of these big international meetings - one that to me up to now has always just seemed like an awkward photo op. It's called the family photo.

Here's how Jim Townsend describes it. He is a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Europe and NATO.

JIM TOWNSEND: He's got to go there. And, you know, they do the family photo. You know, at NATO, they have all the heads of state and government line up on those risers, and they take the family photo. That's really important. That family photo is going to show everyone that these guys are unified.

KEITH: Townsend says this moment matters. It matters to people in Europe who are really nervous about this conflict. And it sends a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who expected the NATO alliance to be wobbly, that it isn't, that it's stuck together. But unity requires care and tending. And that's what President Biden is doing on this trip.

MARTINEZ: Now, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy is going to speak to this joint session and NATO remotely. He spoke to the U.S. Congress last week and to a number of other countries as well. He's been pushing both to join NATO and to get more defensive support. Will there be more announcements on military equipment from this meeting?

KEITH: It's likely that there will be some announcements coming from individual countries. I spoke with Ian Lesser, the vice president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. He works here in Brussels. And he says thus far it's been a coalition of the willing members of NATO moving. The challenge here is that they want to keep maximum pressure on Russia. They want to provide maximum support for Ukraine, which isn't a NATO member. But they also don't want to make a move that escalates the conflict.

MARTINEZ: That's White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thanks a lot.

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

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Tamara Keith
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.