President Biden, in a week of high-stakes diplomacy, scored largely symbolic wins during his meeting in Germany with the heads of the six other leading industrial nations as he fell short of achieving his ambitious goals.
Mr. Biden on Tuesday departed the Group of Seven summit in Germany without securing a consensus to cap the price of Russian oil, impose tougher sanctions on Moscow or expand a plan to counter China’s growing influence around the globe.
On his way to a follow-up NATO summit in Madrid, Mr. Biden was able to pocket one victory. Turkey dropped its objections and cleared the way for Sweden and Finland to join the Western military alliance in reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The U.S. strongly supported the bid by the two Scandinavian countries to become the 31st and 32nd members of the trans-Atlantic alliance.
In a message on Twitter, Mr. Biden called the Turkey agreement “a crucial step towards a NATO invite to Finland and Sweden, which will strengthen our Alliance and bolster our collective security — and a great way to begin the summit.”
The prospect of an expanded NATO could lighten Mr. Biden’s to-do list at the NATO gathering. He will be challenged to maintain the unity of the alliance as the costs of the Ukraine struggle mount and as NATO members seek to clarify the alliance’s formal approach to a fast-rising China.
During the G-7 summit, Mr. Biden struck an agreement for a $600 billion global infrastructure initiative designed to blunt Beijing’s inroads into developing nations. However, the U.S. is footing the bill for most of the program with American companies heading the projects, making the role of other G-7 nations unclear.
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Mr. Biden took the lead in rallying Western powers against Russia in the buildup to Moscow’s Feb. 24 invasion of its neighbor, but some of the most passionate rhetoric this week has come not from the American president but from other G-7 leaders.
French President Emmanuel Macron vowed Tuesday, as the summit in Germany wrapped up, that the G-7 powers would support Ukraine and keep up painful sanctions against Russia “as long as necessary, and with the necessary intensity.” He harshly condemned a Russian missile attack on a Ukrainian shopping mall Monday that killed at least 18 Ukrainian civilians.
“Russia cannot win and should not win,” he said.
Leaders also agreed to ban imports of Russian gold to punish Moscow for its unrelenting war in Ukraine, but the move is largely symbolic. Most of the G-7 countries restricted the purchase of Russian gold months ago. China and India, which are not G-7 members, fuel the largest demand for Russian gold.
Mr. Biden had pushed to impose a global price cap on Russian oil to cut off Moscow’s energy profits, which are helping President Vladimir Putin finance his war in Ukraine. The summit concluded with an agreement to review the idea but no clear path for imposing such a price limit.
Implementing a plan would be incredibly difficult, especially for the European nations with deep economic and trade ties with Moscow. Russia still supplies the majority of Europe’s oil, even as the European Union seeks to wean itself off Russian energy.
SEE ALSO: U.K. officials say Russian forces ‘hollowed out’ from Ukraine invasion losses
G-7 leaders also have much more work to do to figure out the technical aspects of delivering a price cap. It would require a process to trace Russian oil that flows out of a series of pipelines and combines with millions of barrels of oil exported every day from other oil-producing countries.
European Council President Charles Michel expressed skepticism about the plan this week.
“I’m careful and cautious. We are ready to go into the details. We are ready to make a decision together with our partners, but we want to make sure that what we decide will have a negative effect [on Russia] and not a negative effect for ourselves,” Mr. Michel said at a press conference.
France threw a monkey wrench into the agreement on Monday when President Emmanuel Macron called for a worldwide cap on oil prices instead of restricting only Russian oil sales. That move sparked a backlash from the U.S. and Germany.
Mr. Macron backed down later, according to news reports.
Mr. Biden sought to entice other G-7 leaders to go along with the price cap by offering to lift sanctions on insurance for cargo ships transporting Russian oil. Under Mr. Biden’s plan, the sanctions would be lifted only for countries agreeing to buy Russian oil at a maximum price.
A statement from G-7 leaders suggested they were open to Mr. Biden’s plan but did not reach a formal consensus.
“We will consider a range of approaches, including options for a possible comprehensive prohibition of all services, which enable transportation of Russian seaborne crude oil and petroleum products globally, unless the oil is purchased at or below a price to be agreed in consultations with international partners,” the statement said.
The White House hailed the consensus as a victory that will make it harder for Russia to wage war against Ukraine.
“By working together to limit the price of Russian oil, we will further strengthen the existing sanctions imposed by the G-7 and our partners to make sure that Putin will not be able to profit from the higher global energy costs that have resulted from his invasion,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.
Keeping the alliance together
Although Mr. Biden arrived in Germany hopeful of a deal, other White House officials publicly acknowledged the difficulty in getting all seven industrial powers on board.
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters that a price cap agreement would be a “pretty dramatic step forward” and would amount to “one of the more significant outcomes of [the] G-7 summit.” He said a final deal could take weeks or months to reach.
“The single biggest factor here is this is not something that can be pulled off the shelf as a tried-and-true method. … It is a new kind of concept to deal with a particularly novel challenge, which is how to effectively deal with a country that’s selling millions of barrels of oil a day,” Mr. Sullivan told reporters.
A plan to counter China’s push into emerging economies also fell flat. The G-7 leaders agreed to a $600 billion infrastructure initiative to blunt China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to strengthen its ties with developing nations in Asia and Africa by financing road, railway and port projects.
However, the G-7 initiative is merely a rehash of a plan unveiled at last year’s summit, and much of the funding behind the project is aspirational. The U.S. is financing nearly a third of the initiative, roughly $200 billion. American companies are taking the lead on the first few projects, including a vaccine manufacturing facility in Senegal and a solar panel project in Angola.
China, by contrast, has pumped hundreds of billions of dollars into infrastructure programs and other investments in developing economies in Southeast Asia, Africa, South America and Central Europe through its Belt and Road program.
The Biden administration also imposed another round of sanctions on Russia, this time targeting its defense sector and individuals it says are responsible for human rights abuses in Ukraine. The only sanction coordinated with other G-7 allies is the prohibition on Russian gold.
Russia has ramped up gold production to compensate for the impact of economic sanctions, but European countries have largely steered clear of Russian gold. The London Bullion Market Association, a major gold trade hub, suspended transactions with Russian silver and gold refineries in March.
Russia’s central bank responded by buying domestically produced gold in a bid to prop up its currency. The gold in Russia’s central bank is estimated to be worth as much as $140 billion.
The Kremlin did not appear fazed by the show of Western unity in Bavaria and Madrid. Moscow warned that it will respond as the U.S. and its allies send more weapons into Ukraine.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned the West that “the more weapons are pumped into Ukraine, the longer the conflict will continue and the longer the agony of the Nazi regime backed by Western capitals will last.”
• This story is based in part on wire service reports.