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Biden kicks off G7 summit with focus on Ukraine, global economy

The president joined the leaders of the world’s wealthiest democracies at the three-day gathering Sunday and met one-on-one with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his wife, Britta Ernst, walk together Sunday at the start of the G7 Summit at Elmau Castle, in southern Germany.Lukas Barth / AFP - Getty Images

TELFS, Austria — President Joe Biden kicked off a series of meetings with world leaders on Sunday in the Bavarian Alps, where the war in Ukraine was expected to dominate conversation as leaders look for ways to counter the conflict's effects on the global economy and ratchet up pressure on Russia. 

Biden joined the leaders of the world’s wealthiest democracies, including Canada, the U.K., Germany, France, Italy and Japan, at the three-day G7 summit that began Sunday, starting with a one-on-one meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who is hosting this year’s gathering. From Germany, Biden is slated to travel to Spain later this week for the annual NATO leaders meeting. 

The meetings come amid tall challenges for Biden domestically and internationally. At home, Biden faces the fallout from the Supreme Court ruling on Friday that eliminated the constitutional right to abortion, and soaring inflation that threatens to pull the U.S. into a recession. Abroad, the war in Ukraine has triggered a looming global food shortage and soaring energy prices.

The G7 leaders met shortly after Russian missiles rocked Kyiv Sunday, hitting a residential building in a city that had been a relative safe haven in recent months.

"It's more of their barbarism," Biden said when asked by a reporter about the attack.

As the summit began, the leaders had agreed to a ban on imports of Russian gold, the second largest export after oil for Russia and a significant source of revenue, according to a source familiar with the matter.

“I think you should expect to see a series of steps that are designed to increase pressure in an ongoing way on [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and Russia,” an administration official said ahead of the summit. “We think that the step that’s being taken with gold is a very important illustration of the additional steps that we expect to be taken now and in the weeks ahead.”

The G7 leaders were also expected to discuss a potential price cap on Russian energy exports that would set a limit on how much countries would pay for Russian oil. Despite efforts by countries like the U.S. and Canada to punish Russia by cutting off oil imports, Russia has taken in record revenue since the start of the war because of the spike in oil prices, according to a report by the Center for Clean Energy and Fresh Air. 

But G7 leaders also shared a laugh about Putin when they sat down for lunch Sunday before a group of reporters.

As British Prime Minister Boris Johnson debated aloud whether he should keep his jacket on at lunch, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau interjected "you just want to show off your pecs."

“We have to show that we’re tougher than Putin," Johnson responded. "We’ve got to show them our pecs."

“Bare-chested horseback riding,” Trudeau joked as the group laughed.

At his meeting with Scholz Sunday, Biden had an opportunity to press the German leader to increase his country's material support for Ukraine, which has drawn criticism from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Germany has not banned energy imports from Russia, and has only recently started shipping heavy weaponry to Ukraine. 

Ahead of their meeting, Biden emphasized to Scholz the importance of the allies staying united.

“We have to stay together,” Biden said to Scholz, adding that Putin “has been counting on, from the beginning, that somehow NATO would and the G7 would splinter. But we haven’t, and we’re not going to." 

"We can get through all this and come out stronger," he added.

Germany, which is heavily reliant on Russian gas supplies, risks a recession and an energy shortage that would affect home heating and factory operations if it is unable to find alternative sources of energy. Earlier this month, Russia cut back the amount of gas it pipes to Germany.

The summit began as Russian forces continued to make slow, incremental progress in their assault. Before the bombing of Kyiv, Ukrainian forces were forced to retreat from a key eastern city of Sievierodonetsk after weeks of bombardment and battles with invading Russian forces, a local official said Friday, leaving the city of Lysychansk as the only barrier to Russia taking full control of half of Ukraine’s industrial heartland. 

Ahead of his trip, Biden authorized another $450 million in weaponry to be sent to Ukraine, bringing the total U.S. commitment to $6.1 billion since the start of the war. 

The latest round of equipment includes four high-mobility artillery rocket systems, 36,000 rounds of ammunition, 18 tactical vehicles, 1,200 grenade launchers, 2,000 machine guns, 18 coastal and riverine patrol boats, spare parts and other equipment, according to the Defense Department. 

Biden also said he didn’t plan to travel to Ukraine during the swing through Europe this week, which would leave him as one of the few G7 leaders yet to visit the country. The heads of France, Germany and Italy visited Kyiv earlier this month, giving full-throated support to Zelenskyy's efforts not to cede any territory to Russia.

Biden has said whether or not he travels there during his trip would depend on “a lot of things relating to whether or not it causes more difficulty for the Ukrainians, whether it distracts from what’s going on.”

The group of leaders also announced a global infrastructure push aimed at countering China’s influence in lower-income countries. The G7 countries combined are aiming to invest $600 billion in public and private capital for infrastructure projects over the next five years, with $200 billion of that total coming from the United States.

Among the initial projects receiving funding from various U.S. agencies will be a solar panel project in Angola, a vaccine manufacturing facility in Senegal, a telecommunications cable to connect Singapore to France through Egypt and the Horn of Africa, and an investment in a venture capital fund that finances agriculture projects in rural India, the White House said.

“Developing countries often lack the essential infrastructure to help navigate global shocks like a pandemic, so they feel the impacts more acutely and they have a harder time recovering in our deeply connected world,” Biden said in remarks at the summit while flanked by the other G7 leaders. “That’s not just a humanitarian concern. It’s an economic and a security concern for all of us.”