Russia-Ukraine crisis offers Biden a moment to save his presidency

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No early media “cover” at the Oval Office today: the administration begins three rounds of talks with the Russians on the next stages of the Ukrainian crisis.

Expectations that this exercise in diplomacy will provide a better night’s sleep in the White House are low. Still, President Biden has a real opportunity here. Global events may well delay the president’s next foreign policy disaster by a month or so, giving the administration more time to find its place.

This week’s high-level meetings include direct talks between Washington and Moscow, a NATO meeting with Russia and a session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OCSE). That’s a lot to talk about. As Winston Churchill said, “Jaw-jaw is always better than war-war.”

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Churchill, however, would recognize this crisis for what it is. It is not a diplomatic problem. Putin intentionally created this situation with a massive deployment of forces on the Ukrainian border, and then released an outrageous and impossible list of concessions. It’s just old-fashioned naked assault.

The White House said the president was looking for ways to “defuse” the crisis. A statement that suggests they understand exactly the problem. De-escalation suggests that there is a need for both sides to back down. But there are not two sides to this story. It is only Putin’s intimidation, blackmail and the threat of war that could endanger the fate of 44 million Ukrainians.

Biden, with a blessing he doesn’t deserve, can have a window there to act preemptively to strengthen NATO.

It is not a disagreement. It is a threat to kill, destroy and create a massive refugee crisis overnight.

Still, the administration says it wants to test Putin with talks about missile deployments, troop placement and military exercises. Bet on it. Any concessions the United States gives, Putin will just put in the bank and ask for more later. Indeed, even if the United States grants major concessions, Putin could work anyway.

If the White House is committed to giving Putin something for nothing, it will spend all its diplomatic energy beating Ukraine and the North and Central Europeans to give in to what Putin wants. There is no way, if Biden chooses this option, that we will not end up with a more fragile NATO and an increased risk of future wars.

What Biden needs to do is flip the script. Instead of talking about concessions, he should consider how quickly he can strengthen Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence, and do everything possible to contribute to the self-defense of Ukrainian territory by the Ukrainians.

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Biden, thanks to a blessing he doesn’t deserve, can have a window there to act preemptively to strengthen NATO rather than pleading with Putin.
The Russians are scrambling to clean up the mess in Kazakhstan. Can Putin really handle both Kazakhstan and the invasion of Ukraine? Some experts think not.

Meanwhile, China must surely want to keep everything under wraps until after the Olympics. At the same time, the Iranians are trying to wrest all possible concessions from Biden in the Middle East.

Biden might have an extra month to strengthen NATO’s conventional deterrence and help Ukraine. It can conclude agreements to strengthen European energy security. He could consult all NATO allies. It could strengthen Ukraine’s diplomatic efforts rather than participating in multinational dialogues that include all interested parties except Ukraine.

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He couldn’t call an early cover in the White House every day. It might cut back on trips to the beach. He could stop using the White House for partisan attacks and refuse to push ridiculous rants from his newsroom about COVID and the Pravda-worthy economy. He could pull out a Harry Truman and get into serious confrontation with America’s adversaries and the protection of American interests.

Biden might have the most substantial opportunity to save his presidency. But that won’t last long. The clock is turning.

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Christi C. Elwood