President Biden told a hangar of US troops on Wednesday he was in Europe to defend the very concept of democracy, setting high stakes for his first trip abroad as President and warning his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that he planned to raise touchy issues during their summit next week.
“I’m headed to the G7, then to the NATO ministerial and then to meet with Mr. Putin to let him know what I want him to know,” Biden said at RAF Mildenhall, home to an American refueling wing and the site of Biden’s first presidential speech on foreign soil.
Biden, who seemed to grow emotional as he recalled his late son Beau’s service as an Army major, spoke forcefully about restoring American alliances in Europe, describing them as a cornerstone of global security.
And he said he wouldn’t hold back in his meeting with Putin.
“We’re not seeking conflict with Russia. We want a stable predictable relationship,” he said. “I’ve been clear, the United States will respond in a robust and meaningful way if the Russian government engages in harmful activities. We’ve already demonstrated that. I’m going to communicate that there are consequences for violating the sovereignty of democracies in the United States and Europe and elsewhere.”
Before he meets Putin in Geneva next week, Biden is holding consultations with European leaders at the G7 in Cornwall and the NATO summit in Brussels.
“Our unrivaled network of alliances and partnerships that are the key to American advantage in the world and always have been,” Biden said. “They’ve made the world safer for all of us and they are how we are going to meet the challenges of today, which are changing rapidly. We’re going to meet it though from a position of strength.”
He laid out a lofty goal for his first trip abroad, suggesting no less than democracy itself was at stake as he works to convince world leaders that, after four years of President Trump, the US commitment to transatlantic ties is back for good.
“I believe we’re in at an inflection point in world history, the moment where it falls to us to prove that democracies will not just endure, but they will excel as we rise to seize the enormous opportunities of the new age,” Biden said. “We have to discredit those who believe that the age of democracy is over, as some of our fellow nations believe. We have to expose as false the narrative that the decrees of dictators can match the speed and scale of the 21st challenges.”
Biden, as he started his speech by thanking the assembled US service-members, harkened back to his son Beau, who was a major in the Delaware National Guard.
“I only wish my major was here to thank you as well,” he said.