The New Reality of Confronting Russia

Alan Zendell, April 29, 2022,

Today, CNN journalist Stephen Collinson published a compelling analysis of the current status of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It boiled down to two essential conclusions. One is that the fighting between Russian invaders and Ukrainian defenders could go on for many months, even years. It already has. Ever since Russia occupied Crimea and encouraged Russian-leaning agitators in the eastern Ukrainian provinces in the Donetsk Region to declare independence from Kyiv in 2014, a guerilla war has simmered in those regions.

Collinson’s other major point is that the Biden administration in concert with NATO and the EU has dropped its apparently cautious diplomatic approach to the invasion. During February and March, Biden resisted Ukrainian President Zelensky’s appeals for aircraft, sophisticated air defense weapons, and the imposition of a no-fly zone policed by NATO forces, because the risk of nuclear war that might result from direct confrontations between NATO and Russian forces was too great. A no-fly zone is still not in the cards, but virtually every other request for arms and training willow now be granted.

President Biden has had nearly fifty years of involvement in arms control, foreign policy and NATO matters. He understands full well that appeasing dictators is the worst possible response to aggression, and on Thursday, he dropped all pretense of caution. “Throughout our history, we’ve learned that when dictators do not pay the price for their aggression, they cause more chaos and engage in more aggression…And the costs, the threats to America and the world, keep rising. We can’t let this happen.”

There was ever little doubt after the debacle of allowing Russia to occupy and annex Crimea, that Russian President Putin was obsessed with securing the Black Sea ports along Ukraine’s southern coast and controlling a land bridge from southwestern Russian to Crimea. Whether or not the Obama administration’s reaction in 2014, relying on relatively mild sanctions and eschewing military assistance was a mistake, Biden, as Obama’s vice president had a front-row seat to the slowly metastasizing disaster it led to. He wasn’t about to make the same error on his watch, and as Putin has made it clear to the world that he will not cease his efforts to destroy Ukraine until he’s stopped by a united western alliance, it was time to take off the diplomatic gloves.

When Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said at a NATO military summit in Germany this week, “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine,” diplomats around the world gasped. What was that, a senior official of the United States government telling the truth about our objective, even though it seemed to open the door to a conflict that might involve nuclear weapons? When the gap between what is said in the confines of the War Room and what is stated openly to the American people and the world is reduced to zero, something cataclysmic must have occurred.

The Biden administration has declared that it will do whatever is necessary to stop Russia from destroying Ukraine and discourage any further ambitions Putin has to rebuild the Soviet Union. With the exception of a few politicians looking to improve relations with their bases and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul making a fool of himself trying to explain that Putin’s ambitions make sense in the light of history in the region, that position has support from all over the political spectrum. Republicans eyeing the midterm elections will not desist in blaming Biden for the runaway inflation that is an unavoidable consequence of defending Ukraine, but that’s what politics in America has become.

Still, it’s worth noting that America and NATO’s position, while it is absolutely correct, is also shockingly bold. Because it is based in hard reality, it is quite different from the inflammatory rhetoric Donald Trump used in addressing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (before they fell in love.) Hardly anyone took the threats by either Trump or Kim seriously – it was all theater. But not this time. The world is now involved in a potentially deadly game of Truth or Dare.

Or is it? People like Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley are extremely conservative. When they speak publicly, they choose their words carefully. For Austin to proclaim to the world that NATO’s intent goes beyond Ukraine to dealing a major blow to Russia’s military, they must be working from information the rest of us don’t have. My guess is that US and British intelligence believe Putin is on extremely shaky ground at home, and when it becomes clear to the rest of Russia’s military and political leaders that he may be leading them down the path to financial and physical ruin, they will take him down themselves.

Fantasy, you say? Perhaps, but I find it difficult to believe that they would throw down so deadly a gauntlet if they didn’t know Putin was in an extremely vulnerable position.

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