Biden Promises Response if Russia Uses Chemical Weapons in Ukraine, Calls for Continued NATO Unity

President Joe Biden warned that the United States will respond if Russia uses chemical weapons against Ukraine. Biden also promised to take in 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, provide $1 billion in humanitarian support to Ukraine, and a impose a new round of sanctions against Russian politicians, entities, and defense companies.

“Putin was banking on NATO being split,” said Biden, in Europe accompanied by Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III.

Biden said he called for the March 24 unscheduled NATO leaders summit, and subsequent meetings with European and G-7 counterparts, in order to keep allies and partners united in the punishing sanctions regiment against Russian President Vladimir Putin since “Russia began its carnage in Ukraine” one month prior, on Feb. 24.

“He didn’t think we could sustain this cohesion. NATO has never, never been more united than it is today,” he added, reflecting on December and January phone calls with Putin. “Putin is getting exactly the opposite of what he intended to have as a consequence of going into Ukraine.”

Biden also said he is working with European leaders on ways the United States can provide food and energy security amid worries created by the Russia-Ukraine war. Both Russia and Ukraine are major providers of wheat to Europe, and many European countries depend on Russian oil and gas. The U.S. has ended imports of Russian oil and gas and hopes to export more liquefied natural gas to European ports to help allies reduce their purchase of Russian energy.

The new sanctions against Russia, in unison with the European Union, target more than 400 individuals and entities. Included are more than 300 members of the Russian legislative body Duma, oligarchs, and defense companies.

Biden made note of the more than $2 billion in defense assistance already provided to Ukraine, including air defense systems, armor, and ammunition that continues to flow into Ukraine through a variety of secret overland routes from NATO eastern flank countries. The President announced no new defense package or materials, and the $800 million package of additional military support, signed March 16, has yet to begin delivery.

Biden also said 100,000 Ukrainian refugees will be permitted to immigrate to the United States with a focus on reuniting families. European countries have already absorbed more than 3.5 million refugees from the conflict. Biden is set to travel to Poland, the largest recipient of Ukrainian refugees, March 25 and March 26 for meetings with leaders and to visit refugee camps.

Much speculation has arisen as to the possibility that Biden might somehow try to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, which would require either Zelenskyy to leave the besieged capital or for Biden to fly into an active war zone.

After beginning to describe his itinerary, Biden reversed course and said that he hopes to “see a lot of people.”

The President refused to admit that his early ruling out of direct military intervention before the start of the invasion had emboldened Putin, and he dismissed a reporter’s assertion that American sanctions were meant to deter an invasion by Russia.

“I did not say that … sanctions would deter him. Sanctions never deter,” Biden said, noting that the “maintenance of sanctions” for the entire year would stop Putin.

“The single most important thing is for us to stay unified, and the world to continue to focus on what a brute this guy is, and all the innocent people’s lives that are being lost and ruined,” Biden continued.

On China, Biden said that during his recent call with President Xi Jinping, he made it clear that economic access to the United States and European Union would be “in significant jeopardy” should China choose to provide economic or military assistance to Russia.

The President ended by emphasizing that the alliance must hold strong if it is to stop Putin:

“We have to stay fully, totally, thoroughly united,” he said.