Biden calls on G-20 to eject Russia, says China knows its economic future tied to West

Mr Biden said the whirlwind day of meetings illustrated the Western world's unity against Putin's aggression. PHOTO: REUTERS

BRUSSELS (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - President Joe Biden said China knows its economic future is tied to the West, after warning Chinese leader Xi Jinping that Beijing could regret siding with Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"I made no threats but I made it clear to him - made sure he understood the consequences of helping Russia," he said of his call on Friday with Mr Xi:

He later told reporters: "China understands that its economic future is much more closely tied to the West than it is to Russia."

Mr Biden also called on the Group of 20 to eject Russia and warned again that Mr Vladimir Putin may resort to weapons of mass destruction in the Ukraine war during a string of summits Thursday (March 24) with United States allies in Brussels intended to shore up support for Kyiv.

The president said he and European leaders are also developing strategies to stave off a global hunger crisis stemming from the invasion and its agricultural disruptions, and Mr Biden said the US and its allies planned a new organisation to crack down on violations of Russian sanctions.

On Friday, Mr Biden will announce a highly anticipated initiative with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to boost Europe's energy supply with American natural gas, though it may not go far toward weaning the continent off Russian fuels in the short term.

Mr Biden and European Union (EU) leaders on Thursday "discussed EU-US cooperation to reduce dependence on Russian fossil fuels," according to a White House statement.

Mr Biden said the whirlwind day of meetings illustrated the Western world's unity against Putin's aggression, and crowed that the Russian leader had failed to fracture the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), which is backing Ukraine with weaponry and humanitarian aid.

"The very thing that Putin has tried to do from the beginning, and I've been saying this since my days as Vice-President of the United States, is to break up Nato," Mr Biden told reporters at a meeting with the president of the European Council, Mr Charles Michel.

"The whole idea of the unity of Europe as a whole, not just Nato, the G-7 (Group of 7) and this organisation, really matters. It's the single most important thing that we can do to stop this guy."

Yet the day's events also made clear the US and its allies are not ready to go beyond self-imposed limits on the scope of military support for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who came away without assurances after appealing directly to Nato for more assistance, including tanks.

In a closed-door speech to Nato members, the Ukrainian leader lamented that his calls for the alliance to "close the sky" over his country went unheeded.

"The worst thing during the war is not having clear answers to requests for help," Mr Zelenskiy said, according to a translation of his remarks posted on the Ukrainian presidency's website.

The US president downplayed the notion he had emboldened Mr Putin by swiftly ruling out some of Mr Zelenskiy's requests, including more direct US military intervention such as a no-fly zone.

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"No and no," Mr Biden said during an evening news conference in Brussels.

The summits in Brussels tested Mr Biden's ability to project power in the face of Russian aggression and rally allies around tougher sanctions to punish Moscow for invading Ukraine.

The sense of urgency is growing. While Russian forces have faltered in toppling the Kyiv government, they have occupied territory in the south and east of Ukraine and inflicted massive civilian casualties.

Mr Biden warned that if the military stalemate continues, Mr Putin could resort to increasingly desperate measures including using chemical or biological weapons or launching cyber attacks.

Mr Biden and his Nato counterparts discussed contingency plans in the event of an unconventional attack, including providing medical equipment and training for Ukraine.

"We will respond if he uses it," Mr Biden said, referring to Putin's potential deployment of chemical or biological weapons.

"The nature of the response depends on the nature of the use."

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg offered a similar warning on behalf of the alliance.

"Any use of chemical weapons will totally change the nature of the conflict," he said.

"It will be a blatant violation of international law and it will have widespread consequences and of course be extremely dangerous."

Mr Biden received a warm welcome from European leaders in Brussels, showing how views of the US leadership have improved on the continent following Mr Donald Trump's presidency.

Mr Biden was seen smiling while speaking to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron after a group photo in which the US president stood front row, centre.

Biden brought up Mr Trump during a closed-door Nato meeting when the discussion turned to defence spending, remarking that the former president hadn't treated other Nato members very well, according to two officials with knowledge of the exchange. Mr Trump regularly berated Nato countries that failed to meet the alliance's target for defence spending.

"The next election, I'd be very fortunate if I had that same man running against me," Mr Biden said of Mr Trump during his news conference.

The US earlier Thursday announced another round of sanctions on Russia's lower house of Parliament, several business elites and defence companies.

They include steps designed to prevent Moscow from evading existing penalties, including closing a potential loophole to prevent Russia's central bank from using gold reserves to defend the rouble.

Mr Biden announced the US would welcome 100,000 Ukrainian refugees over the next several years, arrange for anti-ship missiles to be delivered to Ukraine's military, provide an additional US$1 billion (S$1.36 billion) in humanitarian aid to the country.

Kicking Russia out of the G-20 would be a symbolic move meant to underscore its status as a pariah state.

But it's unlikely to happen because doing so requires the unanimous support of all members.

Russia confirmed Mr Putin's plan to attend the group's summit later this year in Indonesia, while China has signalled it stands by Russia remaining in the bloc.

If that happens, Mr Biden said, Ukraine should be allowed to attend the gathering as well.

Mr Biden on Friday will travel to Poland for what is expected to be an emotionally charged visit focused on refugees.

Poland is hosting the largest number of displaced Ukrainians in what has become the most severe refugee crisis since World War II. More than 3.1 million Ukrainians have fled the country, according to the United Nations, and roughly 10 million have been forced to leave their homes.

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