Ukraine War, October 10, 2022: Decision time for Biden–respond to Russian escalation in a way that gets Putin’s attention, or cave in to his nuclear threats

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To see a list of previous articles, enter “Ukraine” in the Search Box on the upper right, on The Trenchant Observer web site, and you will see a list in chronological order.

Dispatches

1) “Joe Biden is ‘blundering his way’ to a nuclear war,” SkyNews.au.com, October 9, 2022 (4:43PM);

2) Carl Bildt, “This is best way to counter Putin’s nuclear threats,” Washington Post, October 10, 2022 (9:12 a.m. EDT);

3) “Like shooting fish in a barrel: Russia’s continuing attacks on Ukrainian towns and cities,” Trenchant Observations, July 16, 2022;

4) Karen DeYoung, “Ukraine war at a turning point with rapid escalation of conflict; Both the nature and tempo of the war have changed in recent weeks, as Ukraine’s forces score victories on the ground and Russia retaliates as Putin is backed into a corner,” Washington Post, October 10, 2022 (7:41 p.m. EDT);

5) Clemens Wergin, “Der Westen muss sich fragen, wie lange er weiter einfach zusehen will,” Die Welt, den 10. Oktober 2022;

6) Clemens Wergin (Chief correspondent for foreign policy), “The West has to ask itself how long he just wants to continue watching,” Die Welt, October 10, 2022.

Analysis

News Flash: We are currently in a nuclear confrontation with Russia

At any moment in war, you are constrained by the decisions you did not take earlier, in a timely manner.

Biden does not have a “kitchen cabinet” or Executive Committee like we have recommended under the rubric of “Nuclear Decisions Advisory Group, bringing together a small group of seasoned officials like Leon Panetta and Bob Gates to advise him during a nuclear showdown, and to add credibility to U.S. deterrence.

Biden has not furnished Ukraine with the long-range HIMARS ammunition (ATACMS) we have recommended, so he doesn’t have the option of relaxing restrictions on their use in exercise of the right of self-defense under international law.

He hasn’t authorized the transfer to Ukraine of older Polish Mig 29’s, as he was urged to do in March.

He hasn’t authorized the passive deployment of a contingent of NATO troops in Western Ukraine, to act as a deterrent to escalation by Putin.

He hasn’t pushed the Germans to deliver the battle tanks and armored personnel carriers Ukraine has urgently requested and which Germany has the capability but not the will to deliver immediately.

Instead, “loose lips sink ships” Joe Biden has telegraphed to Putin what he really feels and thinks about Putin’s nuclear threats, at a fundraiser in New York City on Thursday.

Sky News Australia’s TV host James Morrow put the matter bluntly:

US President Joe Biden is “blundering his way” to a nuclear apocalypse, says Sky News host James Morrow.

Mr Biden warned of “armageddon” at a Democratic fundraiser, and said Russia will lose power in the pursuit of the Ukraine conflict.

“There’s a lot to unpack in this, and none of it is good,” Mr Morrow said.

“What the hell are you doing man? Are you trying to get us killed?”

The Kerch Strait bridge was bombed on Saturday. On Monday, October 10, 2022, Russia launched a massive missile attack on cities and infrastructure across Ukraine.

The United States and NATO are in a weak position under Biden’s leadership, in large part due to his fear of “World War III”– Putin’s and Biden’s shorthand for nuclear Armageddon–and the fact that the measures mentioned above have not been taken.

Nor have Democrats in Congress pushed hard enough and required a strengthening of Biden’s foreign policy team.

Nor has the U.S. seriously pressured fence-sitting countries in “the South” to condemn Russia and to join the sanctions regime.

In short, the U.S. and NATO are constrained by all of the decisions and measures they did not take–largely out of Biden’s fear of Putin’s nuclear threats.

Indeed, Biden’s fear of Putin is the biggest constraint on U.S. and NATO options.

Putin was able to launch massive missile strikes across Ukraine today because he believes he has nothing to fear from Biden.

This will remain true as Putin moves up the escalatory ladder and NATO does nothing significant in response.

To be sure, the U.S. may sanction some additional individuals involved in the missile attacks. Such action will have no deterrent effect on Russia, and is likely to embolden Putin.

Putin is now acceding to the demands of the real hardliners in Moscow, including Czechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who has been advocating the use of nuclear weapons. Putin recently promoted him to be a top general in the Russian army.

With the hardest of the hardliners having gained Putin’s ear, there is a large risk that if Biden and NATO do not respond forcefully, the hardliners’ influence will grow further are “moderates” who argued against such measures are pushed aside.

What could deter Putin from further escalation?

It is clear that a failure to respond to Putin’s escalatory actions will only embolden him. A failure to supply long-range artillery rockets to Ukraine will only lead him to believe his nuclear threats have been successful.

What could the U.S., NATO, the EU and other coalition partners do?

Options include:

1. Furnish Ukraine with the long-range HIMARS artillery munitions (ATACMS).

2. Tell Putin that if he keeps attacking Ukrainian cities and civilian infrastructure, the U.S. will relax restrictions on weapons use and allow Ukraine to hit targets in Russia proper in exercise of its inherent right of self-defense under international law and Article 51 of the U.N. Charter.

3. Announce and quickly implement “secondary sanctions” against Russia.

4. Force fence-siiting nations in “the South” to get off the fence and condemn Russia. Force a vote on a harsh resolution (not watered down to get votes) condemning Russia at an emergency meeting of  the U.N. General Assembly and force a vote.

Threaten negative consequences for nations that abstain or vote against the resolution. Carry out those threats.

5) Convene a kitchen cabinet or Nuclear Decisions Advisory Group, as we have recommended, which would function like JFK’s Ex-Commm during the Cuban Missile Crusis.

6) Make sure Biden makes no further off-the-cuff and off-script remarks even remotely related to Russia, Putin, or the war in Ukraine.

7) Give urgent consideration to the measures recommended by Carl Bildt in his op-ed today in the Washington Post, above.

Bildt recommended:

First, it should be stated that any use of nuclear weapons should immediately make regime change in Russia the explicit aim of Western policy.

Second, it should be stated very clearly that any Russian nuclear attack — even if Putin were to take out a number of cities with tens of thousands dead — would in no way alter the fundamental policy of the West….Ukraine NATO membership would be a part of the answer in this respect….

Third, the West should seek to preemptively mobilize the broadest possible international support for this policy….

Fourth, a special effort should be made to engage the wavering nations of China and India….We should make it clear that continuing their policy of tolerating Russian behavior would no longer be an option if they wish to preserve ties with the West.

Fifth, there should be active and visible preparations for credible conventional strikes against important Russian assets. The country has numerous critical vulnerabilities — including base areas for its Black Sea and Baltic fleets or its Arctic liquefied natural gas facilities — and whether its cyberdefenses can withstand sustained attack remains unclear. Putting assets such as these at explicit risk could be part of a beefed-up policy of deterrence.

Bildt stresses that we must be prepared to carry out these threats. He writes,

But we have to be realistic. If worse comes to worst, we should be ready to carry out these policies…

We are in a situation potentially more dangerous than the Cuban missile crisis. We are faced with a leader in the Kremlin who might actually mean what he says about this being a struggle for “life or death.” We must do our utmost to deter Moscow — and all those there in positions to influence events — from the ultimate insanity.

For Biden, hesitation, delay, and inaction are no longer options that might produce good results.

He must act, first to bolster his circle of advisers and, second, to respond to Putin’s escalations and nuclear threats in a way which restores Western credibility and deterrence.

The Trenchant Observer

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