The Russian-Ukrainian Crisis: A Dashboard on Biden’s Response

With large numbers of Russian troops massed on the border with Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin regularly issuing new threats, the administration of US President Joe Biden faces a real danger of war in Europe. How well have the president and his senior advisers handled the crisis? The results are mixed: they were diplomatic in some elements of their response but sowed confusion in others. The administration may still be able to defuse tensions, but it must redouble its efforts to expose the absurdity of many Russian demands and preserve the freedom of action of the United States.

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Good marks. American policy has been more successful in two important areas. First, it has managed to maintain near-total unanimity within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Meeting in Latvia in early December, the alliance’s foreign ministers condemned Russian military pressure on Ukraine. Subsequent meetings, both in Washington and in European capitals, showed similar unity. Second, these statements sent the same strong message: a Russian invasion would trigger new US and European sanctions and eclipse those that followed the crisis of 2014, when Russia seized Crimea and started the separatist war in the United States. eastern Ukraine. EU leaders were very concerned that they would scramble this message in separate meetings or calls with Putin, but they did not.

A passing grade with question marks. Other elements of the administration file are more problematic. He tried (rightly) to defuse the crisis by moving from a possible military confrontation to diplomatic concessions. Biden held a video meeting with Putin, and a face-to-face meeting could follow. In addition, senior US officials have visited Moscow to examine the Russian complaints, and more formal talks are expected in January. Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, described the agenda for these talks as the one the United States and Russia have been discussing “for decades,” that is, elements such as force levels and deployments in Europe or the scope and capabilities of advanced weapons systems. .

Safer:

Ukraine

Russia

Vladimir Poutine

Joe biden

NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)

Yet none of these negotiations granted Russia the “sphere of influence” that now appears to be its main objective. Putin and his advisers are clearly determined to get Western governments to put this issue on the agenda of new talks. In response, US officials called some Russian demands, such as the withdrawal of NATO troops and weapons from states that joined the alliance after the Cold War, “unacceptable.” They haven’t dispelled the impression, however, that Washington will eventually agree to discuss these demands – or that Putin’s military threats force them to do so.

Failed the test. The Biden administration’s record has been the weakest in two critical areas. First, he has made no sustained effort to counter Putin’s insistence that he is simply responding to the West’s own “blatantly aggressive stance” – crucial to the Russian public. The Kremlin’s claim that NATO threatens Russia’s security is belied by the tiny, partly token, Western military presence in the three Baltic states, for example. (US rotational deployments are the largest in Lithuania, typically exceeding around 600 troops.) Whether such forces create a serious defense capability is questionable to say the least; that they represent an offensive threat of any kind is laughable.

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Second, by threatening economic sanctions in the event of further aggression against Ukraine, Washington is playing down other measures that may be necessary even if Russia cancels an invasion. After the Cold War, NATO established no permanent military presence in Eastern Europe, and the strength of troops in Western Europe declined sharply. Only marginal advanced deployments followed the 2014 crisis. Putin’s actions and rhetoric now demand a reconsideration of this strategy. US officials should make it clear that future force levels will depend primarily on the extent of the threat Moscow threatens its neighbors. The Biden administration’s handling of the current crisis will be measured by whether the United States remains free to give its allies and partners the support they need to keep Europe at peace.

Safer:

Ukraine

Russia

Vladimir Poutine

Joe biden

NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)

Christi C. Elwood