U.S., EU strike deal to cut Russian fuel dependency; President Joe Biden arrives Poland

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March 25 (UPI) — The United States and the European Union announced a new agreement Friday aimed at reducing Europe’s dependency on Russian fossil fuels over the war in Ukraine.

The deal was announced during U.S. President Joe Biden’s trip to Europe that is aimed at fortifying an allied response to aid Ukraine and punish Russia for its invasion of its neighbor.

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Biden and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen produced a joint statement Thursday following their meeting that expressed their unity in condemning Russia’s “unjustified and unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine.”

It also mentioned that they will work to establish a joint task force to address the immediate security needs of the EU.

“The task force will be chaired by a representative from the White House and a representative of the president of the European Commission,” the United States and European Commission said in a joint statement.

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“The energy security and sustainability of the EU and Ukraine are essential for peace, freedom and democracy in Europe.”

That partnership was officially announced Friday by the White House, stating that Biden’s administration will increase liquefied national gas exports to the EU market by at least 15 billion cubic meters this year with expected increases going forward.

The two governments will simultaneously work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from LNG infrastructure through using clean energy to power onsite operations and reduce leaks, as well as build clean and renewable hydrogen-ready infrastructure.

“It will work to ensure energy security for Ukraine and the EU in preparation for next winter and the following, while supporting the EU’s goal to end its dependence on Russian fossil fuels,” the White House said in a statement.

The issue of reducing Europe’s energy dependence on Russia has been brought to the forefront as a security issue since Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine has led to worries about an energy crisis on the continent as it has caused a shift away from it as a dependable resource, with Germany halting its $11 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline that ran from Russia through the Baltic Sea to Germany and Europe.

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“Putin has issued Russia’s energy resources to coerce and manipulate its neighbors. He’s used the profits to drive his war machine,” Biden said in a joint news conference with von der Leyen on Friday.

“Today we’ve agreed on a joint game plan toward that goal while accelerating our progress toward a secure clean energy future.”

“The transatlantic partnership stands stronger and more united than ever. And we are determined to stand up against Russia’s brutal war,” von der Leyen said. “This war will be a strategic failure for Putin.”

Ahead of Biden’s visit, von der Leyen told European legislators that the continent “is being rocked by a tectonic shift” not seen since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 as the war in Ukraine is having far-reaching consequences, not only militarily but also upon energy.

“Energy policy is also security policy,” she said, adding that she would speak with Biden about prioritizing LNG deliveries from the United States to the EU in the coming months.

“We are aiming at having a commitment for additional supplies for the next two winters.”

Following his meetings with the commission, Biden left Belgium for Poland on Friday — first traveling to Rzeszów to meet with service members from the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division.

He shared some pizza with the service members and gave an address praising the work they’re doing and calling them the “finest fighting force in the history of the world.” He said the war in Ukraine reaches beyond its borders, acting as a threat to all democracies.

“What you’re engaging in is much more than just whether or not you can alleviate people of Ukraine,” Biden said. “We’re in a new phase. Your generation, we’re in an inflection point.

“The question is, who is going to prevail? Is democracy going to prevail and the values we share? Or are autocracies going to prevail? That’s really what’s at stake. What you’re doing is consequential, really consequential.”

Biden then met with Polish President Andrzej Duda, whose flight to Rzeszów was delayed over a plane malfunction. The leaders were briefed on the humanitarian response to refugees leaving Ukraine.

Biden lamented he was unable to cross the border to see the crisis “firsthand” in Ukraine, citing security concerns. He acknowledged there’s “an awful lot of suffering” in Ukraine and compared the situation to refugee camps he’s visited in other places in the world.

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“I mean, it’s just devastating to see those little babies, little children, who are looking at mothers who — you don’t have to understand the language they speak — you just see in their eyes the pain,” Biden said.

“I don’t think there’s anything worse for a parent than to see … their child suffering. I mean that sincerely. It’s not hyperbole. I mean it from the bottom of my heart.”

Biden thanked Duda for Poland’s efforts to help Ukrainian refugees and said the American people were proud to support those efforts.

“The suffering that is taking place now is at your doorstep,” he said. “You’re the ones who are risking, in some cases, your lives and risking all you know to try help.”

Duda said Biden’s visit to Poland was a sign of unity and support and “demonstrates great friendship.”

“This is an evidence of great support and care for our mutual relations, but also — a thing of importance to me — it is a sign and a message that you care about the security of Poland,” Duda said.

Earlier this month, Poland had wanted to transfer warplanes to Ukraine — a move that the United States rejected, explaining that NATO jets departing from German bases to fly into Russian-contested airspace over Ukraine could escalate the situation.

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Poland has also said it supports sending a NATO peacekeeping mission to Ukraine, which the United States said it will not participate in.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday before an emergency summit that he will not deploy NATO troops on the ground in Ukraine or dispatch planes into its airspace as the alliance has a responsibility to all member states.

“We have a responsibility to ensure that this conflict does not escalate beyond Ukraine,” he said. “That will cause even more suffering, even more death, even more destruction.”

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris visited Poland earlier this month as a show of support for Ukraine, NATO and other allies under threat from Russia. During the visit, she pledged $53 million in humanitarian aid for displaced Ukrainians.

Since the Russian war in Ukraine began, more than 3.6 million Ukrainians have been forced to flee — more than 2.1 million to Poland, according to U.N. data.