Biden Flails as Putin Castles the Ukraine Chessboard
( Red State )
President Biden gave his assessment of the Russia-Ukraine crisis to the nation Tuesday at 3:30 pm Eastern Time from the White House.
Biden has chosen to continue to pursue diplomatic discussions as the practical next step, indicating that the U.S. is now prepared to discuss both US/NATO security concerns AND Russia’s security concerns on the table.
This is a huge win for Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose government has been complaining that the U.S. has been working with its allies to ignore Moscow’s concerns about Ukraine becoming the next domino in NATO’s expansion eastward into the Russian sphere of influence.
Whether Biden is genuinely interested in a full discussion, however, remains to be seen. The U.S. president listed the issues we are willing to discuss; he once again focused on the non-starter issues of arms control, territorial integrity, and strategic stability. But, that’s not what Russia has been asking for. Indeed, Biden made a special mention that the U.S. is not prepared to sacrifice basic principles of self-determination, which is code for rejecting Russia’s principal concern that Ukraine is not allowed to join the NATO alliance. The bottom line is the US gave little other than lip service to continuing to talk without listening.
Later in his statement, Biden also openly telegraphed the limits of U.S. willingness to engage with Russia over Ukraine. The USA has no stomach to militarily resist a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Biden stated that he “will not send US troops to defend Ukraine.” The limit is giving them equipment and advice. US troops will stay behind the borders of NATO nations, where they can posture safely within the tenets of NATO’s Article 5 mutual defense parameters.
Biden also communicated that the U.S. paper tiger response, should the Russians decide to invade, will be “condemnation.” Yeah, we’ll put about it and implement sanctions after Ukrainians are carrying Russian passports again. That’s it. That’s all we got. So scary.
That means Ukraine is effectively on its own, a cat toy to be swatted back and forth in the endless mire of diplomatic limbo. That’s exactly what Russia has always wanted. Everything is happening right on schedule, just before the Tuesday deadline I alluded to last week.
In practicality, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin negated the United States’ Chicken Little warning that an invasion of Ukraine was imminent by announcing that some of the military units on exercises in Russia and Belarus will be returning to their permanent bases. Biden’s retort to this in his statement was only to say that this “has not been verified”; something that I’m not so sure is true if, as one would suspect, every U.S. surveillance asset is looking down on the region with the clarity of reading text, just as you are reading right now.
I cannot help but ask why the U.S. didn’t seem to anticipate this move. I mean there are certainly enough analysts at the Pentagon trained in “red side” scenario gaming to have looked such an obvious ploy. I’ve taught classes in asymmetric warfare. This was an obvious “rule out” test in the most basic tabletop exercise.
Putin has done this with his military exercises before. The last time was in April 2021, in what U.S. analysts called the “Spring Scare.” The Biden administration was preoccupied with Afghanistan at the time, so not much attention was made of it. But the ramp up of Russia’s winter exercises was interpreted differently by the D.C. Establishment in the aftermath of a catastrophic withdrawal returning Afghanistan to the very same Taliban the US sought to displace because of their refusal to turn over Osama bin Laden 20 years ago.
This time, somehow the U.S. policy community convinced the White House to sound an “all call” alarm that Ukraine was the next domino about to fall. This only served to play into Putin’s hands to get him the noticeably clear diplomatic breakthrough that Biden announced is now the next operative step for this crisis.
Reviewing the bidding. Biden and Putin spoke to each other on Saturday, February 12th where Mr. Biden raised the U.S. bargaining position from concerned to confrontive, threatening severe consequences if Russia were to invade Ukraine. The Russian leader didn’t blink.
My read on that Saturday phone call is that no one in the US intelligence, military, or policy community still believed that Russia had any intention to invade Ukraine. It created that safe space for Biden to posture so aggressively because he knew the rhetoric was benign. It was all just a show for the media.
I’ve been convinced that the die has been cast for some time to let go of Ukraine without a shot being fired. Putin will prevent the country from gaining NATO membership, and Joe Biden will be the servant of that outcome.
On Sunday, Putin made his next chess move, creating the opening for the West to give him what he wants by gesturing a unilateral de-escalation of troop posturing.
On Monday, the Kremlin initiated the window breaking by saying they are open to diplomatic discussions about Russia’s security concerns.
Western Europe will react to this with relief. Like Ukraine, they, too, are now assured that the status quo is safely in place.
And no one will believe Biden that his, or any U.S. leadership, was any more than a pawn in Putin’s plans.