Biden returns to Europe in wake of Ukraine crisis

 

McClatchy Washington Bureau

Vice President Joe Biden leaves tonight for Romania and Cyprus, his latest trip aimed at reassuring European countries rattled by Russian President’s Vladimir Putin’s incursion into Ukraine.

Biden, who will be accompanied by his wife, Jill, will discuss the international community’s response to what the White House says is Russia’s “illegal military intervention and destabilizing actions in Ukraine.” He’ll also talk about deepening economic ties, including through the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and steps to bolster Europe’s energy security.

The trip comes as Putin has said he’ll order troops on the Ukrainian border to return to their bases, but a White House official who briefed reporters on Biden’s trip said the U.S. hasn’t yet seen any evidence.

In Bucharest, Biden will meet with Romanian President Băsescu and Prime Minister Ponta. He will also deliver remarks to Romanian civil society and youth leaders, and will meet with American and Romanian troops conducting a joint capacity-building exercise.

In Cyprus, Biden will meet with political leaders from the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities, civil society representatives, and faith leaders. The White House says he will “emphasize the United States’ strong support for a comprehensive settlement to reunify the island as a bizonal, bicommunal federation with political equality.”

Biden will be the highest ranking U.S. official to visit Cyprus since then-vice president Lyndon B. Johnson in 1962. While there he will mark the 40th anniversary of the shooting death of Rodger P. Davies, the U.S. ambassador to Cyprus who was killed by sniper fire during a demonstration against American policy by Greek Cypriots at the embassy in Nicosia on Aug. 19, 1974.

Davies' secretary, Antoinette Varnava, was also killed. Davies, a Berkeley, Calif. native, had been appointed ambassador to Cyprus only a month before his death. He had served as the director of the United States Department of State's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, and later the deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs.

Biden has been a “frequent flyer to Europe, as of late, flying across the Atlantic on a monthly basis since February,” writes Heather Conley, a senior fellow and director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She said Biden “has become the ‘Reassure-er-in-Chief,’ offering words of consolation and American solidarity for increasingly nervous governments in Central and Southern Europe and the Baltics. These countries fully understand the deleterious effects of Russian aggression and European inaction which is why they actively seek American reassurance.”

Conley notes that Biden’s trip on Cyprus comes amid a “glimmer of hope for fruitful negotiations between the Greek Cypriot community and the Turkish Cypriots who live in the internationally unrecognized North.”

“This is what brings an American Vice President to Cyprus after 52 years,” she said, “the promise of a diplomatic success–something that has eluded the Obama foreign policy agenda for quite some time.”

The Cyprus Mail notes his visit already is drawing mixed responses. And it’s not without some controversy at home: the White House last week sought to downplay news that Biden’s youngest son, Hunter, has been appointed head of legal affairs for Cyprus-based Burisma Holdings -- Ukraine’s largest private gas producer.

Though the U.S. has touted the need for Ukraine to boost its energy independence, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the position was unrelated to any official government stance.

“Hunter Biden and other members of the Biden family are obviously private citizens and where they work does not reflect an endorsement by the administration or by the Vice President or President,” Carney said.

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