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Biden and other leaders cast about for ways to help Ukraine at summit

The president promised more defensive weapons and other leaders weighed a cap on Russian oil exports

President Biden waves after arriving in Munich over the weekend for the Group of Seven summit. (Krisztian Bosci/Bloomberg News)

TELFS, Austria — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged President Biden and other leaders gathered here Monday to urgently provide Ukraine with heavy weaponry, a move he said would help drive Russia out of his country by winter.

Zelensky, clad in his trademark green and appearing virtually from his country to address leaders of the Group of Seven ensconced in a scenic Bavarian Alps retreat, sought “additional air defense capabilities that could shoot down missiles out of the sky,” according to White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

“He would like to see his military, and those in the West who are supporting his military, making maximum use of the next few months to put Ukraine in as good a position as they can possibly be in,” Sullivan said. That includes an ambitious goal of ousting Russia from Ukraine before winter weather bogs down forces on both sides, a difficult military feat whose success is uncertain.

Biden told Zelensky that the United States plans to provide Ukraine with an advanced medium-range to long-range missile defense system, as well as artillery and counter-battery radar systems, administration officials said.

After hearing from Zelensky, the G-7 leaders released a six-page statement in support of Ukraine, reaffirming their solidarity and commitment to protect the Eastern European country from continued Russian aggression for “as long as it takes.”

But while Biden and his counterparts responded quickly to some of Zelensky’s requests, the group after two days still lacked consensus on the best path forward and was working to smooth over fissures in the transatlantic alliance that has so far been remarkably unified. The war has evolved from Ukraine’s initial rebuff of the Russian attack, amid heroic stands by the country’s leadership and citizenry, to more of a slog with Russian forces making significant inroads.

The G-7 leaders did not come together behind any potential off-ramps or a blueprint for ending the war, which has dragged on for four months. “We are committed to helping Ukraine to uphold its sovereignty and territorial integrity, to defend itself, and to choose its own future,” their statement read. “It is up to Ukraine to decide on a future peace settlement, free from external pressure or influence. We will continue to coordinate efforts to meet Ukraine’s urgent requirements for military and defense equipment.”

A senior French official briefed on the talks, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters, said Zelensky had requested “full and complete support for Ukraine, political support, financial support, military support to help push the Russians back beyond the February lines.”

The official added that it is “up to Ukraine to know when it will enter into negotiations” with Russia and that the objective is “to end the war as quickly as possible,” in part because of Zelensky’s concern that the arrival of winter could “freeze the conflict.”

The mood on Ukraine becomes grimmer as Biden heads to Europe

The G-7 meeting, which will be followed by a NATO summit in Madrid later this week, unfolded against continuing events in Russia and Ukraine that underscored both the suffering of Ukraine and the challenges facing a weakened and increasingly isolated Russia.

As Zelensky mentioned in his appeal to the G-7 leaders, Russia hit the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, with a barrage of missile strikes on Sunday, in what was “likely a direct response to Western leaders discussing aid to Ukraine” at the summit, analysts from the Institute for the Study of War said. The missiles struck an apartment block and a kindergarten playground, killing a man and injuring his 7-year-old daughter, among several others.

On Monday, a Russian strike hit a crowded shopping mall in central Ukraine. At least 13 people were killed and 40 injured, according to Ukrainian officials, with figures expected to rise, and videos shared in the aftermath of the attack appeared to show the mall in the industrial city of Kremenchuk engulfed in flames.

At the same time, Russia has defaulted on its foreign currency debt for the first time in more than a century. Western sanctions designed to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine have restricted its ability to pay overseas creditors. The last time Russia defaulted on its foreign debt was during the Bolshevik Revolution in 1918.

On Monday morning, White House officials said the group of allies was “very close” to an agreement to impose a global price cap for Russian oil shipments, a measure designed to disrupt a key source of Russian funding for the war in Ukraine. The goal would be to prevent Moscow from substituting one buyer for another as a way to escape the impact of the sanctions.

Sullivan described a potential deal on price caps as a “pretty dramatic step forward” that would be “one of the more significant outcomes of the G-7 summit,” but he was unable to say how long it would take to nail down the details of an agreement and put it in place.

“This is not something that can be pulled off the shelf as a tried-and-true method,” Sullivan said. “It is a new kind of concept to deal with a particularly novel challenge, which is how to effectively deal with a country that is selling millions of barrels of oil a day.”

Speaking to the G-7 leaders, Zelensky also voiced his support for the idea. But some analysts are skeptical that Biden or the G-7 would be able to enforce a global oil price cap, given the sprawling and diffuse nature of world oil markets. “I see no way for such a cap to work in practice,” said Pavel Molchanov, director and equity research analyst at Raymond James, an investment bank and financial services company.

Oil is an entirely global market with numerous buyers and sellers, he said, and it is easy for buyers to substitute one source of crude for another. Likewise, oil companies can sell their crude to a wide range of markets, many of which have not imposed sanctions on Russia.

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Prices are set by the push and pull of supply and demand across transactions happening all over the world. A giant economy can try to influence the price by changing how much crude it buys or sells, but there is no global body that could disallow prices from going above a certain level. “Artificial price controls of any kind would be meaningless,” Molchanov said.

Tom Keatinge, director of the Center for Financial Crime and Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute, said the challenge will be implementing price caps in the real world. “On paper, it makes very good sense. The devil will be in the detail,” he said. Asked if the G-7 has the power to execute such a plan, Keatinge added, “That is the $1 billion-a-day debate.”

On Sunday, Biden said on Twitter that the United States and other G-7 nations would officially announce on Tuesday a ban on the import of Russian gold, “a major export that rakes in tens of billions of dollars for Russia,” Biden wrote.

But that idea also faced doubts, a growing dynamic as Western nations explore new and often untested ways to punish Russia for the war. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Monday expressed skepticism that a deal on an embargo on Russian gold could be made at the summit. “We are discussing this issue, but it will also have to be discussed within the European Union, and that is why it is not for the G-7 to make a final decision,” he told a German news network. “But we will continue to fine tune the sanctions regime.”

The talks will continue later this week at the NATO summit in Madrid. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the transatlantic alliance would sharply increase the number of forces it keeps at a high readiness level to 300,000, part of what he called the “biggest overhaul of our collective defense and deterrence since the Cold War.”

Transforming the NATO response force, which has roughly 40,000 troops, is one of the ways the 30-member defense alliance is responding to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Leaders will also discuss plans to bolster the alliance’s eastern flank, outline a new force model, announce funding decisions and publish a “strategic concept” that lays out the NATO strategy for the years ahead, according to NATO diplomats.

The last time the alliance published this type of strategy document was in 2010, when ties with Russia were considerably warmer. The latest version “will make clear that allies consider Russia as the most significant and direct threat to our security,” Stoltenberg said at a news conference.

The document will also for the first time outline how NATO views China as a competing global force, although the member countries have yet to settle on the exact language that will be used, NATO diplomats said. Stoltenberg said he expects the document to address “the challenges that Beijing poses to our security, interests and values.”

Sullivan also said that the United States was trying to resolve as many issues as possible to ensure Finland and Sweden can overcome objections from Turkey and can join the alliance. The desire of the two countries to enter NATO is a significant geopolitical result of the war in Ukraine.

Asked if Biden would hold a one-on-one meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Sullivan said “nothing is scheduled at the moment,” but he did not rule it out. “Let’s see how the next 24 hours unfold,” he said.

After addressing the group, Zelensky posted a short video of scenes from the meeting set to crescendoing music, along with a description of the five concrete steps he had outlined to the G-7 that he said could help both Ukraine and Europe as a whole.

“Acting immediately and according to the joint plan of global leaders is what is really needed to restore peace and stability in Ukraine and throughout Europe,” he wrote.

Aaron Gregg in Washington, Rick Noack in Mittenwald, Germany, Florian Neuhof in Berlin, Emily Rauhala in Brussels and Annabelle Timsit in London contributed to this report.

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