When President Biden met his Western allies in Europe three months ago, the world was rallying behind Ukraine, and NATO suddenly had a new sense of purpose — its old purpose, containing Russia. There was talk of “crippling sanctions.” President Vladimir V. Putin was in retreat, and talk of victory was in the air.
Now, Mr. Biden has returned to Europe — for a Group of 7 summit of the world’s wealthiest large democracies in the German Alps on Sunday and Monday, followed by a NATO gathering in Madrid — at a moment when everything about the war is harder.
While Russia’s oil exports have fallen precipitously, its revenues have been on the rise, a function of soaring fuel prices. After concentrating its efforts in Ukraine’s south and east, Russia is making incremental but significant gains as the Ukrainians, surrounded, begin to give up key cities: first Mariupol, and now, in the east, Sievierodonetsk.
So Mr. Biden must prepare his allies for a grinding conflict — a return to the “long, twilight struggle” that President John F. Kennedy talked about during the Cold War — amid shocks in the food and energy markets, and inflation on a scale few imagined six months ago. Not surprisingly, a few cracks are already emerging as popular discontent, and coming elections, begin to worry allied leaders.
White House officials say that none of this will deter Mr. Biden from squeezing Russia even harder, and the past few weeks have brought behind-the-scenes efforts to reach agreements on new ways to isolate Moscow.
The White House also plans to announce new steps to bolster NATO’s capabilities, including a new “strategic concept” for the alliance, the first in a dozen years. Back then, there was still talk of integrating Russia into Europe; today that seems fanciful.
The looming issue will be how to deal with Mr. Putin, at a moment when Russia has been recast from a fellow European power to a pariah state. His isolation will deepen, American officials say. But when President Emmanuel Macron of France said in May that the West should resist “the temptation of humiliation” of Mr. Putin, it was among the first public signs of a rift in the fundamental strategy of how far to push the Russian leader.
“Compared to the March trip, Biden faces a heightened degree of trade-offs between domestic and foreign policy objectives,” said Richard Fontaine, the chief executive of the Center for a New American Security, a Washington research group. “His priority will be to increase pressure on Russia and aid to Ukraine, but to do so when the West is worried about oil and food prices, its remaining weapons stocks and a war that shows no end in sight.”
It is the new, grinding nature of the conflict that differentiates these two summits from those that have gone before.
Only two months ago, Americans were talking openly about victory over the Russians, and the reasonable-sounding hope that Mr. Putin’s forces would be forced to retreat to the positions they held before the Feb. 24 invasion. Mr. Biden is now more cautious in his public tone, even if his goals remain fundamentally unchanged.
The question is whether he can begin to move allies from a crisis response to a sustained response to the invasion, knowing that expenses will mount and pressure will build as Mr. Putin tries to use every weapon at his disposal — like limiting gas exports and continuing to block Ukrainian grain exports — to exercise leverage over his adversaries.
Mr. Biden, aides say, is constantly weighing whether new weapons would escalate the war too quickly and give Mr. Putin another justification for retaliation. But he also wants to make sure that Mr. Putin is losing ground.
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