Europe’s migrant crisis demonstrates Biden’s weakness – opinion

White House gives Russia, China free rein to cause trouble around the world.

By Con Coughlin, Gatestone Institute 

Nothing better illustrates the ability of rogue states to take advantage of Joe Biden’s pitifully weak leadership than the role Belarusian despot Alexander Lukashenko has played in creating a migrant crisis in the heart of Europe.

As Mr. Biden’s unimpressive performance during his recent video summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping has graphically demonstrated, the US leader appears increasingly out of his depth on the world stage, to the extent that Washington’s adversaries see Mr. Biden’s weakness as working to their advantage.

Mr. Xi’s confidence that he has nothing to fear from Mr. Biden was clearly reflected in the patronising tone he adopted towards the US leader from the outset of their three-and-a-half hour meeting, referring to Mr. Biden as his “old friend”, when he is clearly no such thing.

Furthermore, Mr. Xi demonstrated his evident feeling of superiority over his American rival by warning him that Mr. Biden that he was “playing with fire” over the issue of Taiwan.

“Some people in the US intend to use Taiwan to control China. This trend is dangerous and is like playing with fire, and those who play with fire will get burned,” Mr. Xi said, according to Beijing’s readout.

By contrast Mr. Biden proved unwilling to raise any issues that might prove uncomfortable for the Chinese leader, such as Beijing’s role in causing the Covid-19 pandemic that has wrought havoc throughout the world.

Nor is China the only rogue nation that believes that the Biden administration’s inherent weakness gives them carte blanche to cause mischief in other parts of the world.

Another example of rogue leaders taking full advantage of Mr. Biden’s inept leadership is the deepening migrant crisis in eastern Europe, where Mr. Lukashenko has been accused of deliberately stirring up trouble on the Polish and Lithuanian borders by encouraging thousands of illegal migrants to try to seek asylum in the European Union.

EU officials believe Mr. Lukashenko, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is personally responsible for provoking the crisis, accusing the Belarusian leader of adopting “an inhuman, gangster-style approach.”

Mr. Lukashenko’s reasons for provoking the crisis is aimed at blackmailing the EU into lifting the sanctions it imposed after his regime launched a brutal crackdown against opposition activists following the country’s 2020 presidential elections, which were widely condemned as a sham.

Further sanctions were imposed after Mr. Lukashenko ordered the Belarusian military to intercept a Ryanair passenger jet in May, which was diverted to Minsk so that the authorities could detain two activists who were travelling on the aircraft.

While Mr. Lukashenko’s primary motivation in provoking the crisis is focused on getting the sanctions lifted, it is also abundantly clear that Mr. Putin is keen to exploit the crisis as an opportunity to sow division and discord within the Western alliance.

The Russian autocrat is also well aware of Mr. Biden’s weak disposition as a result of the three-hour summit the two leaders attended in Geneva last June, the most notable outcome being the American President’s utter capitulation to Moscow on long-standing arms control demands.

Since then Mr. Putin has made clear his unwillingness to take arms control issues seriously by conducting a number of provocative acts, such as its recent demonstration of its ability to destroy a satellite with a newly-developed missile.

Mr. Putin is always looking for an excuse to weaken the Western alliance, and the latest migrant crisis in Europe has therefore presented him with the perfect opportunity to cause trouble.

The Kremlin has issued its customary denials that it is in any way responsible for the crisis, but this has been dismissed by countries such as Poland, which have accused Russia of using the migrants as pawns in an attempt to further destabilise the EU.

To judge by the increasingly acrimonious exchanges taking place between European leaders, the migrant crisis is having the desired effect of causing division among EU member states.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision, for example, to schedule a telephone conversation with Mr. Lukashenko, the first contact the Belarusian despot has had with a Western leader since the 2020 elections, has provoked bitter criticism from a number of east European states.

Poland, which is on the frontline of the crisis, has complained that it is being left out of discussions regarding its own border, while Lithuania, which has declared a state of emergency, has accused Mrs. Merkel of playing into Mr. Lukashenko’s hands by giving him the recognition he craves.

Despite these tensions between member states, the EU is trying to present a firm line by resisting pressure to ease sanctions against Minsk.

In normal circumstances, moreover, the EU would expect to receive support from the US in its stand-off with Russia.

On this occasion, though, Mr. Biden’s inability to provide anything approaching clear and effective leadership has meant that the US has been required to take a back seat, a woeful state of affairs that will not be lost on Mr. Putin, as well as other adversaries such as Mr. Xi.

It is a measure of the Biden administration’s impotence that, despite Europe being one of Washington’s closest allies, the White House has still not managed to appoint new ambassadors to key European countries such as Britain, France, Germany and Poland, thereby severely limiting Washington’s ability to maintain high level contacts with its allies.

Consequently, the only winners from Europe’s latest migrant crisis are likely to be Mr. Putin and his thuggish Belarusian ally, while for Mr. Biden it will only serve as yet further evidence that, while he may still be in office, he has absolutely no power when it comes to exercising influence in world affairs.

Con Coughlin is the Telegraph’s Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.