Politico’s Laura Rozen is reporting that Vice President Joe Biden will travel later this month to Romania, the Czech Republic and Poland. The vice president is emerging as the administration’s “perestrakhovshchik” – the “reinsurer.”
He is the one who tries to guarantee to America’s eastern European and Eurasian partners that any moves made under the “reset of relations” with Russia will not impinge on their core interests.
The timing follows the established pattern: about three weeks after a meeting or policy shift occurs, Biden is dispatched on this reassurance mission. After President Obama’s summit meeting with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvdev, Biden visited Tbilisi and Kyiv to pledge that U.S. support for (eventual) NATO membership was unchanged. Now his job is to explain the decision to cancel the missile defense system.
Biden may also need to explain the comments of Ambassador Richard Morningstar, as reported by Alexandros Petersen, that the U.S. may put commercial viability as the key criteria for assessing new Eurasian energy projects and pipelines, as opposed to automatically supporting those proposals which guarantee to bypass Russia. Poland already views the Nordstream line – designed to directly link Russia with Germany via the Baltic sea, bypassing the existing transit countries – as a threat to its own energy security interests.
So what will the vice president be prepared to offer? A greater U.S. conventional presence in the region as an alternative to the missile defense deployment? Closer security ties? Walking back from Morningstar’s apparent position in Bucharest in favor of clear reiteration of support for energy projects like Nabucco? Last month, Mark Brzezinski listed other policies to consider, including, if not having Poland join the visa-waiver program outright, waiving the fees. Will any of this be on Biden’s list?
Biden, in his visits to Kyiv and Tbilisi, walked a fine line of trying to balance the concerns of Russia’s neighbors with not undermining the new opening to Moscow. How will he succeed the second time?
Nikolas K. Gvosdev, an Atlantic Council contributing editor, is on the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect those of the Navy or the U.S. government.