Biden and Putin at Loggerhead, But They Cannot Afford to Lose Ukraine Showdown
Russia and the United States are escalating their psychological warfare at a time when an (adverse or) peaceful end to the crisis has real-world ramifications for Americans.
A virulently anti-Western President Joe Biden faces a showdown with the Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has used Ukraine as a pretext to try to force the US to renegotiate the Cold War settlement.
It appears that neither man is blinking, according to CNN. Both parties have staked huge political stakes, which may make it unfeasible for any resolution to come soon.
Americans are facing a pandemic, high inflation, and are fighting their own political battles, which might make the Eastern European showdown seem unimportant.
Recently, Biden declared the United States will not send troops to a non-NATO country such as Ukraine.
As a result, the world’s two most powerful nuclear powers owners are engaged in a tense showdown of wills not seen since the fall of the Soviet Union.
The biggest battle between regular conventional armies in Europe since World War II could be triggered by a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
What is worth notable is the credibility of the West, global perceptions of US power, and the possibility of secondary effects affecting Americans are at stake — for example, an increase in energy prices caused by the crisis.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State Antony Blinken meet in Geneva on Friday to try to pull back from the brink.
Despite this, the US is not giving in to Putin’s demands for concessions which would severely compromise NATO.
Additionally, the U.S. threat of unprecedented sanctions on Russia if it invades, as well as the offer of an off-ramp to Putin, failed to work.
In fact, Kyiv’s government claims Russia is nearly finished building up its forces to launch a full-scale invasion.
With 100,000 troops stationed on Ukraine’s borders, Russia’s strongman plays a game of great power poker to keep the world guessing.
For Putin, who thrives on throwing his adversaries off-balance, it’s just the way it should be.
In talks with the US, analysts suspect that Putin bluffed by stating the invasion threat as a way to win equal status as a superpower.
Others view the move as a nationalist effort to gain popularity at home without actually invading Ukraine.
It’s possible, however, that Putin sees weakness in the US and division in Europe and figures this moment is the one to crush Ukraine’s hopes of a pro-Western future.
Due to the US refusing his demands, as well as the crises that are engulfing so much of his reputation, it’s unlikely Putin will just walk away.
“The only thing I’m confident of is that decision is totally, solely, completely, a Putin decision,” Biden said on Wednesday at the White House.
“Nobody else is going to make that decision; no one else is going to impact that decision. He’s making that decision.”
Why Putin is so Concerned About Ukraine
For a full understanding of that decision, it is necessary to understand why the Ukrainian leader is so concerned about it.
The collapse of the Soviet Union was a disaster for the former KGB officer. A great civilization was humiliated by NATO’s eastward expansion, according to him.
That helps to explain why he has insisted on concessions Biden cannot agree to.
Russia has sought to reclaim the old sphere of influence it once had over former Soviet states, including Ukraine, over the last decade or so.
Crimea, a sovereign territory of Ukraine, was then annexed by Russia in 2014.
Recent protests in Belarus and Kazakhstan were suppressed by Putin. Due to his own autocratic regime, it is also apparent that a thriving, prosperous Ukrainian democracy based on Western values is unthinkable.
His long rule, corruption, and repression may even be emulated by Russians tired of his long rule.
In his news conference, Biden offered the unwelcome suggestion that sanctions against Russia might be lessened if Putin engineers only a “minor incursion.”
The President quickly recanted the statement. Nonetheless, Biden gave a candid exposition of Putin’s motives in his speech.
He speculated the Russian leader was seeking revenge and a role for Russia in the 21st century.
“The Berlin Wall came down, the empire has been lost, the near abroad is gone, etc. The Soviet Union has been split,” Biden speculated about Putin’s worldview.
“But think about what he has,” the President said. “He has eight time zones, a burning tundra that will not freeze again naturally, a situation where he has a lot of oil and gas, but he is trying to find his place in the world between China and the West.”
The second goal of Putin’s Ukraine gambit is to tarnish the prestige of the West (where the U.S. can be found), which is also a component of his Russian restoration project.
Putin is also meddling in the election as part of that project.
It remains debatable whether he was decisive in 2016 because he supported Donald Trump over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
However, this — Putin’s — intervention unleashed destructive political forces within the United States.
It is ironic that the candidate he supported as President, and who now leads an attack on American democracy that coincides with Putin’s goals.
Because of Trump’s actions, Biden is seen by millions of citizens as an illegitimate president during the Ukraine showdown.
Such a result could have never been hoped for by Putin.
Biden’s Strategy to Win the Race
Biden’s approach to the crisis can be explained by Putin’s challenges. On a package of sanctions that would effectively isolate Russia from the Western economy.
He spent weeks trying to unify the Western allies, which Putin is dividing.
The fact that Biden admitted the West wasn’t on the same page was what made his comments so damaging.
At the same time, he was truthful. This week, for instance, French President Emmanuel Macron called for a European channel to Putin, offering Putin a chance to exploit a divide with the US.
As he tries to tackle his lonely decision, Biden seems to be playing a risky game with Putin by promising sanctions that would threaten the country’s ties with the developed world.
Biden painted a picture of Ukraine as a long and bloody insurgency at a time when Washington may be considering arming Kyiv like the Afghan Mujahedeen did when they drove the Soviets from Afghanistan in the 1980s.
“You can go in and, over time, at great loss and economic loss, go in and occupy Ukraine. But how many years? One? Three? Five? Ten? What is that going to take? What toll does that take? It’s real. It’s consequential,” Biden said.
Putin must be concerned about the potential for the quagmire in Ukraine, given his sensitive stance toward political opposition and a large number of conscripts in the Russian armed forces who are likely to start returning home in bodybags.
The move may also be a precursor to a more limited incursion by special forces and irregular forces.
U.S. rhetoric about a Russian invasion and the leak of intelligence reports about Russian preparations have been among the most peculiar aspects of its approach to the Ukraine crisis.
There is no way to tell if the administration is providing political cover for itself so that it will not be surprised by Russian tanks crossing the border.
This could also be an attempt by Washington to coerce Europeans into sanction threats. For example, US and German relations have long been strained over Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which transports Russian gas to western Europe.
Berlin’s new government has now signaled that if Russia invades Ukraine, the flow of gas will be halted. In some respects, the US has even seemed to be provoking Putin with its statements about an invasion, such as those made by Biden on Wednesday. A tactic like this might pressurize the Russian leader — but it’s a big risk.
Biden is the Target Of The Republican Attack
Although Putin is under enormous political pressure, he is not the only one. Biden is as well.
As far as Europe is concerned, an invasion by Moscow nation would pose a serious challenge because it still relies on the US for its security.
If the US invasion happens, it will present a serious foreign-policy headache to a President who is already coping with crises.
An ostracized Russia would have even greater determination to frustrate the goals of the U.S. and thus, shake the world politics.
In order to deter further Russian expansionism, Biden may have to urgently deploy troops in the Baltic. The US would also be distracted from its main strategic challenge in the next several decades — the global challenge posed by China — if there were a new European standoff.
It would break American leadership of a community of free nations if a strongman could annihilate a smaller democracy without consequence. Taiwan and China especially will keep an eye on American reactions.
There are also domestic ramifications of the crisis.
Invasion by Putin now would make Biden appear weak.
There’s already the impression he’s constantly trying to catch up to Putin’s pacesetting.
His summit with the Russian leader in Geneva last year was called appeasement by critics.
In midterm elections this year and the presidential election in 2024, Republicans will likely portray him as confused and bumbling because of his plight.
The minority leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, described Biden’s remarks about a “minor incursion” by Russia as “bizarre and devastating.”
“Why is our President speculating like a passive observer on the sidelines? He isn’t a pundit. He isn’t Putin’s psychoanalyst. He’s the President of the United States,” said the Kentucky Republican.
Biden, like Putin, cannot risk losing the test of wills to be played out in the next few tense days based on Putin’s disdainful critique.
Nonetheless, for the betterment of several countries, hopes are things never escalate than is.