Reprinted with permission from Foreign Policy Decisions, April 10, 2021
Raven Saint and Will Stewart, “‘Ready for conflict’: Putin’s threat to the West is laid bare in new footage showing build-up of troops and military convoys on Ukraine’s border as Kiev warns it could be provoked by Russian ‘aggression’; New footage claims to show inside of Russia’s massive deployment on border; Ukraine estimates there are now a staggering 85,000 Russian troops in the area; There have been mounting tensions in the country’s eastern Donbas Andrii Taran, Ukraine’s defence minister, issued a statement earlier today; US is to dispatch two warships to sail through the Bosphorus on April 14 and 15; Washington continuing to fly reconnaissance planes to monitor Russian activity; But it comes as Russia claims to have intercepted an American RC-135 spy plane,” The Daily Mail (Mail Online), April 10, 2021 (05:27 EDT, updated 10:02 EDT).
As leading American newspapers are asleep at the wheel, on a slow Saturday afternoon, Vladimir Putin and Russia are mobilizing for war against the Ukraine. According to the Ukrainian Defense Minister, some 85,000 Russian troops have been moved to within striking distance of the border. U.S. officials are quoted in recent news reports as speculating about what Vladimir Putin’s intentions might be.
The reports are silent about what, if anything, the United States and NATO are doing to affect Putin’s calculations and intentions.
To be sure, the U.S. has given Turkey notice that it intends to move two warships into the Black Sea, in accordance with the notification requirements of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne which regulates such movements. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken plans to travel to Europe next week to consult with allies on the developing Ukraine crisis. Oh, and the U.S. is continuing to monitor Russian troop movements through aerial surveillance.
America is sending two warships into the Black Sea. I’m sure that has Putin, probably ensconced in his palace in Sochi, quaking in his boots.
This is a sad spectacle to observe. Joe Biden’s foreign policy team and Secretary of State Blinken continue to not impress. One has the impression that Joe Biden intends to follow the disastrous foreign policy of Barack Obama, which witnessed the Russian invasion and annexation of the Ukrainian Crimea in February and March 2014, and the Russian invasion of the eastern Ukraine beginning in April 2014, culminating in the movement of regular Russian troops into the Donbas in August 2014.
Obama subordinated important foreign policy objectives, e.g., in Syria, to the goal of reaching a nuclear agreement with Iran.
He reached an agreement with Iran, but failed to secure the bipartisan political support needed to sustain it. Biden would be foolish if he continued this approach. A resumption of the agreement with Iran should not be hard to secure. Biden need do Putin no favors to secure this objective.
Putin was stopped, not by anything Obama and the U.S. did, but rather by the European Union which imposed serious economic sanctions on Russia on September 5, 2014, and reached a standstill agreement with Putin in the Minsk I Agreement signed on September 14, 2014. Obama, for his part, was paralyzed and caught up in an internal American debate over whether the U.S. should provide Ukraine with “lethal” military assistance.
After the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimea, the U.S. and the EU placed very light “sanctions” on Russia, in what amounted to a slap on the risk for invading a European country.
Undoubtedly, this slap on the wrist only emboldened Putin, who proceeded with his invasion of the eastern Ukraine with both irregular and regular forces.
The situation today is similar to that which existed in the Ukraine in February 2014, prior to the Russian invasion of the Crimea at the end of the month. Russian troops were massing on the frontier.
And then they moved.
In the background, Putin can see Biden’s lack of resolve in failing to reverse Donald Trump’s disastrous surrender policy in Afghanistan, embodied in the February 29, 2020 Doha agreement with the Taliban. Biden has not even replaced Zalmay Khalilzad, Trump’s ambassador in charge of negotiating the “cut and run” surrender agreement with the Taliban.
Putin can see America and NATO are willing to accept defeat in Afghanistan.
He may also be emboldened by the Russian-Chinese agreement to jointly oppose the West, quickly concluded after Buden’s statement on national television that Putin was “a killer”, and after Bkinken’s confrontational ministerial-level meeting with the Chinese foreign minister, and their respective delegations, in Anchorage, Alaska.
Moreover, Putin is facing no strong deterrent pressure from NATO and the U.S., who have not even bothered to rebut the fallacions legal arguments Russian officials have advanced as potential justifications for an invasion of the Eastern Ukraine.
War is in the air. America and Europe are asleep, paralyzed, and in the absence of strong leadership don’t know what to do.
In these circumstances, and barring resolute deterrent actions by the U.S., the EU, and NATO, it appears likely that Russia will send military units into the Donbas, and perhaps beyond.
An obvious strategic objective for Russia would be to seize the territory between the Donbas and the Crimea,including the port of Mariupol, in order to form a “land bridge” from the Russian mainland to the Crimea.
It is time for Biden to bring in some real heavyweights, the best in the country, to assist his current team in managing U.S. foreign policy towards Russia, and the world. The current team, alone, is clearly not up to the task.