Morning Brief

Foreign Policy’s flagship daily newsletter with what’s coming up around the world today. Delivered weekdays.

Why Biden’s Russia Talk Makes NATO Allies Nervous

Biden wants to ease tensions over Ukraine, so why is that worrying NATO’s Eastern members?

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
U.S. President Joe Biden holds a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
U.S. President Joe Biden holds a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
U.S. President Joe Biden holds a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the Oval Office in Washington on Dec. 9. Doug Mills/Pool/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. President Joe Biden calls Ukraine and NATO allies ahead of Russia talks, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz makes his first foreign visit, and Nicaragua switches diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Biden Seeks to Reassure Allies

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. President Joe Biden calls Ukraine and NATO allies ahead of Russia talks, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz makes his first foreign visit, and Nicaragua switches diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Biden Seeks to Reassure Allies

The U.S. government has been at pains to reassure NATO allies following a recent video conference between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden.

Allies have reportedly been spooked over Biden’s comments following the call, when he said he would consider Russia’s concerns over NATO and convene high-level multilateral talks to find out “whether or not we can work out any accommodation as it relates to bringing down the temperature along the Eastern front.”

On Thursday evening, Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as well as the leaders of nine Eastern European NATO members, known as the Bucharest Nine, allay concerns that the United States and Russia were carving out a separate approach to NATO and Ukraine.

For Ivo Daalder, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO under former U.S. President Barack Obama and the current president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the hasty calls may have had more to do with clarifying Biden’s comments than any shift in White House policy.

“I think theyre walking it back for a reason,” Daalder said. “I dont think they wanted to imply in any way that either his or his administrations policy is appeasement or to try to give in to Russia on either the historical or geopolitical narrative.”

If Biden is trying to de-escalate tensions in their neighborhood, then why are Eastern European NATO members so concerned? It’s partially down to the nature of the discussions, Lauren Speranza, director of trans-Atlantic defense and security at the Center for European Policy Analysis, told Foreign Policy, with Eastern members feeling left out of talks that could directly affect them.

Then there are more existential worries, such as whether the United States would allow Russia to exercise a de facto veto over future NATO expansion and, in an even broader sense, whether the United States is focused on the region in any long-term capacity, especially considering the Biden administration’s attention on Asia.

“Part of the concern from Eastern allies is that they dont want the U.S. to capitulate to Russian demands in order to quiet that issue so they can go elsewhere and neglect European security concerns,” Speranza said.

On Thursday, Putin reiterated his public position on Ukraine’s relationship with NATO. “We are concerned over the prospects of Ukraine’s possible accession to NATO as it will definitely result in the deployment of military contingents, bases, and weapons posing a threat to us,” Putin said, citing concerns over missile defense systems already in place in Poland and Romania.

“We have every reason to believe that the same will happen if Ukraine joins NATO but on the Ukrainian soil,” Putin added. “How can we not think about it? It would be a criminal omission from our side: witnessing impotently what happens.”

Ukraine’s status as a NATO member-in-waiting is a headache that might have been avoided was it not for the then-George W. Bush administrations 2008 push for both Ukraine and Georgia to be promised future membership, an approach France and Germany opposed.

The compromise, a vague declaration of future Ukrainian and Georgian membership in NATO, did more than anger Russia; it largely stopped NATO expansion in its tracks. “We broke a very successful policy of slowly bringing in countries when they were ready and when NATO was ready. Now, NATO’s no longer ready, and Ukraine and Georgia have become a sore in the alliance,” Daalder said.

With allies anxieties somewhat tamped down, Biden has further diplomatic hurdles to surmount, starting with prospective talks with Russia, likely alongside NATO members France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Olga Oliker, director for Europe and Central Asia at the International Crisis Group, told Foreign Policy about the steps needed to reduce tensions—a combination of deterrence, de-escalation, and diplomacy (outlined in detail in a new report).

Those steps could vary from making commitments on limiting the number of conventional military forces present in the region to scaling back actions considered provocative, such as naval exercises in the Black Sea. “You can tone that down without having to say the other side is right,” Oliker said.


What We’re Following Today

Scholz on the road. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz makes his first foreign trip today since assuming office earlier this week, visiting French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris before heading to Brussels for meetings with European Union and NATO officials. Annalena Baerbock, foreign minister in Scholz’s new cabinet, is also on the move, heading to Warsaw to meet with her Polish counterpart, Zbigniew Rau, and human rights commissioner Marcin Wiacek.

Nicaragua sides with Beijing. Nicaragua officially severed its diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of China late Thursday, a move that shrinks Taiwan’s pool of formal allies and distances the government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega further from Washington. Taiwan can now only count on the formal support of 13 countries plus the Vatican, a number that could dwindle further if Honduran President-elect Xiomara Castro fulfills a campaign pledge to switch allegiances to Beijing. Following Nicaragua’s decision, the U.S. State Department called on “all countries that value democratic institutions, transparency, the rule of law, and promoting economic prosperity for their citizens to expand engagement with Taiwan.”


Keep an Eye On

Chile’s election. The father of José Antonio Kast, the far-right candidate in Chile’s presidential runoff vote on Dec. 19, appears to have been a Nazi during World War II, a revelation that clashes with Kast’s previous denials about his father’s involvement with the party. A Nazi party membership document unearthed last week from Germany’s federal archive appears to match the biographical details of Kast’s father, who emigrated to Chile in the 1950s. The most recent poll puts Kast’s challenger, leftist Gabriel Boric, ahead by 3 percentage points—but more than 20 percent of voters are still undecided.

Tobacco’s future. Younger generations of New Zealanders will be banned from purchasing cigarettes and other tobacco products under new laws announced on Thursday, which are set to take effect over the next few years. In a bid to cut down on smoking and its ill health effects, New Zealand will also dramatically reduce the number of retailers allowed to sell tobacco as well as limit stocks to low-nicotine products. As part of the plan, New Zealand’s minimum age to purchase tobacco products will increase each year from its current starting point of age 18, effectively banning those born after 2008 from ever purchasing cigarettes in the country.

The new economy. The European Commission announced new draft rules targeting tech firms that employ high volumes of independent contractors, such as food delivery and ride-hailing apps, by strengthening labor regulations that may soon see those workers qualify as employees. The rules, which need approval from the European Parliament, would potentially entitle so-called gig workers to a minimum wage as well as vacation and pension benefits. EU Jobs and Social Rights Commissioner Nicolas Schmit said the move would ensure “quality jobs” in the future while a lobby group representing Uber and Deliveroo said it would lead to job losses.


Odds and Ends

The journey from ones bed to a home office counts as a commute, a German court ruled on Wednesday in a case that could have larger implications for the country’s employers. The unnamed plaintiff brought the case after his employer refused to pay out workplace accident insurance when he suffered a back injury while walking down a staircase to his home office.

The court has provided some wiggle room for future cases, however, clarifying if the plaintiff had already been in his office before the accident, he would not be protected as the insurance should only cover the “first morning journey from bed to the home office.”

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

Join the Conversation

Commenting on this and other recent articles is just one benefit of a Foreign Policy subscription.

Already a subscriber? .

Join the Conversation

Join the conversation on this and other recent Foreign Policy articles when you subscribe now.

Not your account?

Join the Conversation

Please follow our comment guidelines, stay on topic, and be civil, courteous, and respectful of others’ beliefs. Comments are closed automatically seven days after articles are published.

You are commenting as .

More from Foreign Policy

Oleg Salyukov salutes to soldiers during Russia’s Victory Day parade.
Oleg Salyukov salutes to soldiers during Russia’s Victory Day parade.

Stop Falling for Russia’s Delusions of Perpetual Victory

The best sources on the war are the Ukrainians on the ground.

A fire rages at the Central Research Institute of the Aerospace Defense Forces in Tver, Russia
A fire rages at the Central Research Institute of the Aerospace Defense Forces in Tver, Russia

Could Sabotage Stop Putin From Using the Nuclear Option?

If the West is behind mysterious fires in Russia, the ongoing—but deniable—threat could deter Putin from escalating.

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi is received by his Kenyan counterpart, Raychelle Omamo, in Mombasa, Kenya.
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi is received by his Kenyan counterpart, Raychelle Omamo, in Mombasa, Kenya.

While America Slept, China Became Indispensable

Washington has long ignored much of the world. Beijing hasn’t.

A bulldozer demolishes an illegal structure during a joint anti-encroachment drive conducted by North Delhi Municipal Corporation
A bulldozer demolishes an illegal structure during a joint anti-encroachment drive conducted by North Delhi Municipal Corporation

The World Ignored Russia’s Delusions. It Shouldn’t Make the Same Mistake With India.

Hindu nationalist ideologues in New Delhi are flirting with a dangerous revisionist history of South Asia.