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Western Anxiety Makes for an Unexpectedly Smooth G7 Summit

The Group of 7 summit that ended on Saturday went extraordinarily smoothly by the standards of a gathering where the leaders of major powers come together. That was a measure of the anxiety the leaders feel about deteriorating trends in Ukraine, in the Middle East, in China and in their own political futures.

There was a dispute over the use of the word “abortion” in the communiqué, prompted by the host, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni of Italy, but that was seen as a gesture to her domestic constituency. On important issues of geopolitics, there was little that divided the group.

President Biden may appear politically vulnerable and uncertain of re-election, but this summit meeting was another example of unchallenged American leadership of the West, especially on contentious issues of war and peace.

With the main headlines about new support for Ukraine — a $50 billion injection built on the money earned from frozen Russian assets, and long-term security pacts with Ukraine signed by the United States and Japan — this gathering was just the first in a series intended to bolster President Volodymyr Zelensky in the war against Russia.

It is followed this weekend by a so-called peace summit in Switzerland that aims to show that Ukraine has global support and is willing to negotiate on fair terms with Russia, even though Moscow has not been invited. Then, NATO holds its 75th anniversary summit meeting in Washington in mid-July.

While Ukraine will not receive an invitation to begin membership talks with NATO, the alliance, led by the United States, is preparing what Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken has called “a bridge to membership” — a coordinated package of long-term military and financial support for Kyiv that some have likened to a diplomatic and military “mission.”

It’s all aimed at trying to persuade Ukrainians and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia that his attempts to subordinate the country will not succeed.

“These summits have become easier to manage as the geopolitical situation has gotten worse,” said Jeremy Shapiro, research director of the European Council on Foreign Relations and an American former diplomat. “It will be the same at the NATO summit. Everyone is nervous and sees greater benefit in unity and in American leadership.”

With the leaders of countries like Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Japan all weakened politically by recent elections or by those on the near horizon, “It’s easy for the Americans to orchestrate,” Mr. Shapiro said. “The luxury of big summitry squabbles is pretty much gone.”

A few years ago, it would have been more raucous inside the room, Mr. Shapiro said. “But no one is undermining the United States now, not even Emmanuel Macron,” he noted, referring to the French president who has become a hawk on Ukraine and just suffered a major political defeat in European elections, as did Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany.

Even on issues like Israel and Gaza, where Europeans are passionately divided and much less inclined than Mr. Biden to give Israel a pass on the conduct of the war, the discussion at the summit was quiet and the communiqué was bland and muted, simply restating the Biden administration’s view.

Similarly on China, where European and American interests do not always coincide, there was a new toughness in the language, led by Washington. In contrast to a few years ago, there were at least 25 references to China in this communiqué, nearly all of them critical of Beijing.

But the message on Ukraine was the most important, trying to convince Mr. Putin that “you can’t wait us out,” as Charles A. Kupchan, an American former official and professor of international affairs at Georgetown University, put it.

Noting the $50 billion loan, the bilateral security commitments and NATO’s new commitments to Kyiv, “Concrete progress is being made, if progress is measured in terms of extending the time horizon for supporting Ukraine,” Mr. Kupchan said.

“It’s important now, because Putin thinks he can still win, conquer Ukraine or subjugate it by destroying its infrastructure and economy, forcing people to leave and then install a puppet regime,” Mr. Kupchan added. “But the only way the war ends is when Putin is convinced he can’t achieve either of those objectives, so the time horizon is key.”

On Friday, as Mr. Zelensky left Italy to travel to his peace summit in Switzerland, Mr. Putin laid out his conditions for negotiations — an offer that would amount to a Ukrainian surrender. For now, Ukraine and Russia are talking past one another.

They will only be willing to negotiate seriously, Mr. Kupchan suggests, “when there is a manifestly clear military stalemate and neither side thinks it can get more.” That situation may arrive sometime next year, he added, as Ukraine continues to construct better defensive lines.

To get there, however, the West must ensure that Ukraine “survives as a sovereign state,” said Robin Niblett, former director of Chatham House, an international affairs think tank in London. “Each of these meetings and steps in the last few months and coming up to the NATO summit are a procession to ensure Ukraine’s long-term survival,” he said.

“We are investing in Biden and preparing for Trump,” Mr. Niblett said, given the real possibility that Mr. Biden might lose the election to Donald J. Trump, who is no fan of aiding Ukraine.

“A key element of Western strategy is to have an effective transition from the United States leading that support to Europe picking up the baton,” Mr. Niblett added. The message to Mr. Putin, he said, is “maybe Ukraine can’t push you out, but you can’t win.”

Only this week, NATO defense ministers agreed that the alliance would assume a greater role in training Ukrainian troops and coordinating arms supplies to Ukraine, taking over from the United States in a bid to safeguard the process.

Europe already provides more total financial and military aid to Ukraine than Washington does, but it is not nearly enough, said Claudia Major, a defense analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

The West is increasing its support to Ukraine for urgent military, budgetary and reconstruction needs, she said. “But my fear is that we congratulate ourselves, and it’s really great, but it’s not enough for Ukraine to win or end the war on its own terms.”

Sending Western troops to train Ukrainian soldiers in Ukraine, as some NATO countries advocate, would carry an important political message, Ms. Major said. But it would also require more protection for them when Kyiv needs all its forces engaged in the real battle, she added.

Similarly, Mr. Macron’s offer of Mirage jets to Ukraine is an important gesture, but, Ms. Major noted, “It adds to Ukraine’s logistical headaches with yet another sophisticated weapons system, so its military benefit is questionable.”

Ms. Major said that South Korea, West Germany and even Finland were excellent examples for Ukraine of how a country can lose territory but still become a democratic and economic success fully anchored in the West. “Are we prepared to do as much for Ukraine?” she asked.

Mr. Niblett and Mr. Kupchan say that the Ukraine war is slowly moving toward some form of functional cease-fire. “Ukraine is beginning to fortify a relatively fixed front line, even if Zelensky doesn’t want to say so, fearing that line could become a new border,” Mr. Kupchan said.

But no one expects a serious conversation about the realism of Ukraine’s war aims until after the American presidential election. “There remain few people who are still optimistic that Ukraine can win this war, but in public there is no serious conversation about an alternate war aim, and that leaves everyone in limbo for now,” Mr. Kupchan said.

“The level of Western unity is not false, and there remains remarkable solidarity with Ukraine,” he added. “The problem is what do we do with that solidarity.”

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