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Ben Roback is Vice President of Public Affairs at Sard Verbinnen & Co.

Few would have predicted that Brexit would have led to a more unified response to a global crisis between the UK and EU Member States, but the war in Ukraine has seen Boris Johnson act as a convening force for European nations and the broader western alliance. The International Ukraine Support Group, for example, was launched jointly by the UK, Canada and the Netherlands to coordinate a humanitarian, economic and military response in Ukraine. Even if the announcement looked a lot like a dreadful boyband reunion.

The western allied response has attempted to present a united front, but fractures have been quick to appear. See for example Belgium lobbying for exemptions for diamonds in a drafted EU sanctions package, likewise Italy for luxury goods. There is shared anxiety about the humanitarian displacement we are witnessing, but warm words are unevenly matched with fast and nimble routes to legal immigration. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss was asked if she was “ashamed” of reports that the UK had only granted 50 visas to Ukrainians. She deftly deflected responsibility towards the Home Secretary, but in the cold light of day you got the feeling her answer was “yes”. On the contrary, Polish President Andrzej Duda has opened his borders and country’s arms to over a million people fleeing Ukraine and counting.

That is not to say the British government has been asleep at the wheel. Lord Ashcroft, similarly of this parish, polled over 1,000 Ukrainians and asked who they thought was doing enough to support their nation. 53 per cent thought the UK was doing enough – compared to 23 per cent for NATO, 44 per cent for the USA and 46 per cent for the EU. Talk of the PM having a “good crisis” is of course deeply crass, but we are seeing where the UK can be effective in both diplomacy and military support, leading where others follow.

What then of Joe Biden?

Critics will argue President Biden has been disappointingly absent from the beating heart of the western response to Putin’s aggression. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has been shuttling to and from Europe, while Biden has remained on US soil throughout. The president hasn’t set foot in Europe since the G20 in October 2021. Do his priorities simply stop at US borders?

In his state of the union speech, delivered last week to a customarily raucous and divided Congress, President Biden opened with a long reflection on the US response in Ukraine and announced he would close off American air space to all Russian flights – but this came days after the UK (24th February) and EU (28th February) announced the same thing.

A myopic worldview scarred by “forever” wars, military losses and financial expenditure in Iraq and Afghanistan appears to have taken over Washington and was visible throughout Biden’s remarks to Congress.

Sitting comfortably in the White House, President Biden will be judged on how he maintains a constant tempo of sanctions and political punishment designed to punish the Russian regime. This week, the White House announced the US will ban all imports of Russian oil, natural gas and coal. To the president’s credit, the US will make the move unilaterally and in advance of Europe due to disagreement among European nations about whether to ban Russian energy imports. EU countries have significantly more exposure to Russian energy than the US. Oil from Russia accounts for roughly three per cent of US crude oil imports and about one per cent of total crude oil processed by US refineries. Multiple US refiners have effectively stopped purchasing oil already from Russia owing to concerns about how to pay for it if Russian entities are already under banking sanction with more yet to come. Preliminary data from the Energy Information Agency shows that US imports dropped to zero in the last week in February.

The White House retains deep concerns about the inevitable knock-on effect this will have on petrol prices at home and President Biden will need to convince the war-weary American people that it is a price worth paying. Good luck. Energy prices were already a significant factor in the 40-year inflation high.

The President appears caught between a rock and a hard place. His political instinct clearly leans towards providing much deeper help to President Zelensky and the people of Ukraine. His words to Congress were warm and embracing of the “freedom-loving” resistance. But he knows that it is the people of Michigan not Mykolaiv, Colorado not Kyiv who will ultimately judge him in the next election. Is every political consideration for the people of Ukraine being counterbalanced by concern for what it means for an American population who have grown weary of sacrificing prosperity at home in the name of peace abroad? Maybe it is a product of sitting over 7,000 KM away from the heart of the battle and with few worries that war will come knocking at the door. President Biden is finding that those closer to the action, with more to lose if Putin prevails, are leading the western response to Russian barbarism and leaving him behind.