Notwithstanding about what happens next between Russia and Ukraine, Putin has given the NATO alliance a new sense of purpose. He may even have reinforced it. At the same time, he helped restore US leadership, which he had long sought to undermine.
Do not misunderstand me. While NATO will almost certainly emerge stronger in the event of Russia engaging in a cold-blooded attack on a neighboring country, the Ukrainian people will certainly suffer and that cannot be mitigated. . Their government is in grave danger and a protracted struggle for control of Ukrainian territory will pay dearly.
And whatever the outcome of Putin’s current hand, he will certainly call it a success, just as he sought to express it with a tsunami of lies.
The mood among senior members of Biden’s foreign policy and national security team is bleak but purposeful. US diplomats and their families have been ordered to leave Ukraine. NATO is actively repositioning to deter and deter any threat from Russia. The consensus among my sources is that it is highly likely that the Russian military will invade Ukraine in the next few weeks, adding to their invasion of the country that began in 2014.
Intensive efforts are underway to prepare for that situation with a much stronger response than anything seen from the Bush, Obama or Trump administrations following Vladimir Putin’s previous invasions in Georgia or Crimea.
At the same time, the State Department – led by the active diplomacy of Secretary of State Antony Blinken but also attended by many top officials – is engaged in intense negotiations with its allies us to ensure NATO coherence and support for Ukraine, even as Blinken, his deputy Wendy Sherman, and their team join Putin’s envoys in an effort to prevent them from violating more sovereignty of Ukraine.
US analysts are weighing different scenarios. These range from Russia’s better thinking about last-minute action, to more surgical Russian attacks aimed at capturing specific parts of Eastern Ukraine (such as the land bridge with Crimea). , to a major attack that could involve Russian elements entering the country from the south, east and north. A flash attack from Belarus to Kyiv is considered a possibility, with the aim of causing the current Ukrainian government to replace and replace it with something more appetizing to Moscow. While Russia deny this is their planUS officials believe that one possible goal of Russia’s move against Ukraine is to force the Ukrainian government to make concessions ranging from promising not to join NATO to ceding greater autonomy to nearby regions. More Russian. This would have the effect of weakening Ukraine’s central control and making it easier for Russia to pull the strings in those neighborhoods.
Officials with whom I have spoken over the past few days have indicated that they believe larger-scale scenarios are more likely to occur across Russia’s more limited missions. In addition, they say that the Russians are capable of rapidly mobilizing significantly more forces immediately on the Ukrainian border.
The expectation is that Russia will find a way to infiltrate, strike hard, destroy as much of the Ukrainian army as possible, and pinpoint the concessions it seeks as soon as possible rather than engaging in a drawn-out conflict. long. They have experienced such conflicts – in Afghanistan – and it is believed that they do not want to repeat those mistakes.
Not only will the Ukrainian people fight fiercely, but one of the main differences between this case and Russia’s past adventures in their foreign proximity is that Western allies have agreed and has started providing Ukraine with lethal aid. Union aircraft and ships were delivered to Eastern Europe while, at the same timeNATO allies are discussing the deployment of more troops and alliance resources near Russia and Ukraine. In addition, the EU is preparing Substantial economic package for Ukraine.
The Biden team has taken a careful and systematic approach to all of America’s friends and allies in the region, with top officials regularly communicating with every member of NATO from Montenegro, Slovakia to Germany , France and England. While NATO’s 30 member states are diverse and represent many political views and interests, the United States has found the bloc to be unified. When asked about the exceptions, a senior official said Hungary was the only example he encountered. Within Germany there was a debate about the extent of support, especially regarding the supply of weapons or the authorization of German-made weapons. to be offered to Ukraine, and the new prime minister recommended caution on the application of sanctions. But if Putin relies on internal divisions to cripple NATO, that won’t happen. French President Macron has sought to position himself as an independent thinker on the issue, while his government has been more reluctant to describe a Russian onslaught as imminent.
However, punishment mode under discussion (and likely coming from Western allies) will be sweeping and packing a punch. It ranges from financial sanctions that could target Putin’s associates and make it difficult for Russia’s financial community to do business, to “novel” export controls aimed at preventing the sale to Russia of significant U.S. technology and equipment containing or produced by such technologies.
Such sweeping and decisive actions, combined with effective foreign policy, are a far cry from what Putin encountered when he visited Georgia in 2008 or Crimea in 2014.
Many of the top members of the Biden team served in the Obama administration during the 2014 Russian invasion and its aftermath. They did not want to repeat the mistakes of the tense, painful internal debates that occurred back then — debates characterized as over whether we should send the Ukrainians “blankets or MREs (meals). eat, ready-to-eat food). ”
The Biden team has also clearly drawn criticism for its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by not only preparing for any eventuality and communicating carefully with allies, but also implementing a plan of public diplomacy that is well known. well staged to ensure their efforts were seen by the public.
For all these preparations, it is clear that if Russia launches a new major offensive on Ukraine – combined with its aggression in 2014 and the conflict that has continued since then – it will be a blow to peace and stability in Europe, unlike anything the continent has seen since The Berlin Crisis of 1961. The devastation, loss of life and costs associated with the Ukrainian people can be enormous. In the short term, Putin could weaken a neighboring country’s military, send a well-known message of his own strength, and even achieve political goals in Ukraine. His allies in the US and Europe (private property and isolationist conservatives, Viktor Orban, and others) may even try to blame these events on ” Biden’s weakness.”
However, of course, the responsibility for whatever happens next in Ukraine rests entirely with Vladimir Putin. Attacking your neighbor — again — would be a classic “war of choice”. He will meet fierce resistance. Concessions won with guns are difficult to sustain in the medium to long term.
Furthermore, while Putin may think the United States is retreating from its leadership role – perhaps since Bush’s defeat in Iraq, through Obama and Trump, and after Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan – he did. proved to be false.
The United States has developed a carefully calibrated, multi-front diplomatic and security initiative. And despite the fact that managing a 30-member coalition can often feel like herding cats, the West has demonstrated enormous common purpose, resolutely rejecting Putin’s threats. . Although the media may focus on the unusual, the big story is the degree of close coordination and shared determination.
Putin may have initiated this potential conflict to oppose NATO expansion and to advance his goal of total dismantling the alliance. But what he did – and what he might do next – could have the opposite effect.
Outstanding Russian expert Fiona Hill was, in a New York Times op-ed, argued that “Putin has the right of the United States where he wants us.”
This is in large part because the US is weakened by internal divisions, Hill attributes. I agree whether those divisions are supported to impede the Biden administration moving forward.
That is not what has happened so far, however, and if the administration and its allies stay on track, Putin has the potential to not only miscalculate, but achieve the near-impossible: deliver New purpose for an alliance that was looking for a raison d’etre since the end of the Cold War.
Putin has reminded the world, and especially Europeans, of the threat he poses. He has lobbied for NATO to act aggressively, with the United States leading the way. NATO may even emerge larger, with Sweden and Finland openly contemplating membership.
In other words, in the end NATO and the West will become stronger, Putin will appear more unruly, and Russia will become weaker and even reduced.