After meeting with NATO allies and announcing a deal to help secure more liquefied natural gas for the European Union to reduce its dependency on Russian fossil fuels, President Biden is traveling to the Polish border with Ukraine on Friday to highlight the growing humanitarian catastrophe caused by the war and to underscore the moment of peril for Europe as it confronts Russian aggression.
Even as Mr. Biden continues to rally European allies to keep up the pressure on Russia, Ukrainian forces have launched several counteroffensives that appear to have changed the dynamic of the war. But Western leaders worry that as Russian forces are stymied on the battlefield, President Vladimir V. Putin may turn to unconventional weapons.
Over the past two days, Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general, has said that there is an urgent need to provide protective gear to Ukrainians.
“Our top military commander, General Wolters, has activated NATO’s chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense elements,’’ Mr. Stoltenberg told reporters on Thursday, referring to Gen. Tod D. Wolters, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe. That means NATO teams that deal with contamination from such attacks are being put on heightened alert and additional defenses are being deployed, something that has not happened on this scale in modern memory, military experts say.
Twice during the series of meetings in Brussels on Thursday, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine beamed in from his command post in Kyiv, telling the European leaders that no matter how proud they were of having stood up to Mr. Putin, they had not done enough. Ukraine, he suggested, was fighting a war for Europe — and one that Europeans, as much as other Ukrainians, could not afford to lose, because Mr. Putin would not stop at Ukraine’s borders.
In other major developments:
An estimated 300 people were killed in the Russian bombing of Mariupol’s Drama Theater, which hundreds of people had been using as a bomb shelter, local officials said on Friday, though it was unclear how officials had arrived at that estimate.
Although the fuel plan announced by Mr. Biden and the European Commission president highlights the United States’ willingness to use its global influence to help Europe and further isolate Mr. Putin, the task will not be simple.
Two Russian missiles struck a military base in Dnipro, a city in central Ukraine, late Thursday, a local rescue service said. No information about potential casualties was immediately available.
Russia and Ukraine carried out their first prisoner exchanges since the invasion began, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk of Ukraine said.
For some older Ukrainians, Russia’s invasion has revived painful memories of World War II.