Ellen Nakashima

Ukraine Crisis, February 21, 2022 (Part II): Weighing options–Biden’s Munich moment

Joe Biden is facing “a Munich moment”. Will he impose tough sanctions on Putin for crowning his ongoing invasion of the Eastern Ukraine with the recognition of the puppet regimes he installed in 2014 and has maintained in power since, as independent countries, who will now invite Russian troops in to “protect” the population?
It is clear from the reports above that Biden is temporizing, drawing fine intellectual distinctions just like his mentor, Barack Obama, who helped create the present Ukraine crisis by not reacting strongly to Putin’s invasions of the Crimea and the Eastern Ukraine in 2014.
In 2014 Obama objected to the characterization of the Russian invasion of the Donbas as an “invasion”, preferring to term it an “incursion”. An “incursion did not require as strong a response with sanctions as an “invasion”, as Biden eerily communicated to Putin in a press conference some weeks ago.
Biden has made two colossal strategic misjudgments, and appears to be making a third at this very minute.
The first was the irrevocable decision to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan. Once that decision was made, all that followed was a future foretold.
The second strategic blunder was to tell the world publicly, including Putin, that he was taking force off the table as a possible response to potential Russian aggression against Ukraine.
By that decision, Biden shaped the battlefield in ways which were sharply detrimental to Ukraine, and to the U.S. and its allies.
Now, having set the stage with the first two colossal blunders, Biden is making his third, by not applying the threatened severe sanctions against Putin for merely having engaged in an “incursion” in the Donbas.
The initial sanctions announced today, to ban business with entities in the “separatist” republics and to sanction personally individuals involved in the decision is a bad joke, and repeats–almost in cut and paste fashion–the bad joke of Obama’s sanctions against Russia for invading the Crimea in 2014.
In 2014, it was a bad joke which emboldened Putin. In 2022, it is a bad joke which will not deter Putin from a larger war, and which very likely will increase his contempt for Biden–unless it is followed within a day or two by the heaviest of sanctions.
Biden’s third strategic blunder is underway, but it’s not too late for him to do some fresh thinking and adopt the heaviest possible sanctions.
Biden needs to lead the anti-Russian coalition, not merely sink to its lowest common denominator.

Putin will not stop until he hits a brick wall. Biden must either bring that brick wall into play, or choose the path of appeasement, as Western leaders did at Munich.
He faces what is likely to be greatest Munich moment in his presidency.


Ukraine Crisis, February 15, 2022 (II): Scholz is tough in Moscow; Putin hints at negotiation and withdrawals, but it could be a deception; Russian military moves to block any NATO intervention; Biden gives strong speech; Security Council meeting on February 17

Draft – Developing There were many important developments in the Ukraine Crisis today, and some revealing ones in the last few days, including the following:…


The Ukraine Crisis: Current Developments (and the risks of nuclear war)–January 29, 2022

What is most striking about discussions about sanctions is the way officials talk about what the negative effects of really serious sanction would be on their economies or the international financial system, as if the alternative were a simple continuation of the status quo.

The real comparison they should be making is between the effects of the sanctions, if they are adopted, and the effects on their economies of a major ground war in Europe with the attendant risks of escalation to nuclear war, if they are not.

A nuclear war could have a really negative impact on their economies.

Moreover, everyone should bear in mind that once a war begins, all the assumptions of the “rational actor” paradigm no longer hold, if they ever did even to a limited extent. The rational calculation of costs and benefits would be out the window, as would be the ability of any leader, even Putin, to control the course of events. We should recall the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and how dicey that was.

We should also recall how, in the run-up to World War I, the mobilization of Russian military units set in motion forces that could not be controlled, leading to the outbreak of hostilities in August, 1914.

Three critical questions have received little attention:

1) First, if Russia invades Ukraine and a war ensues, how will the war be stopped?

2) Second, if Russia invades Ukraine, how will the risks of accidental or intentional escalation be moderated? If such escalation occurs, in the fog of war, how will the risks of further escalation to nuclear war be controlled? Could the Security Council play a useful role, now, by debating a draft resolution which takes those risks into account?

Assuming Russia would veto any such resolution, should members be preparing, now, to take that Resolution to the General Assembly and bring it to a vote?

3) The third question is whether countries should think, now, about forming a “great coalition” to bring military force and other power to bear in forcing Russian troops out of Ukraine? This is precisely what members of the United Nations did in 1990, when they joined a military coalition to use force, in exercise of the right of collective self-defense, and repelled Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces following their invasion and occupation of Kuwait.

Kuwait was not a member if NATO. Yet the countries of the world felt it was important to defend the territorial integrity of Kuwait and the bedrock prohibition against the international use of force enshrined in article 2 (4) of the Charter.

Repelling aggression by a nuclear power which is a Permanent Member of the Security Council would represent an unprecedented challenge. How would that work out?



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