The invasion was imminent after all and Vladimir Putin has only begun testing the world’s resolve.
When the Russian media announced in late August of 2021 that the Taliban offensive in Kabul seemed to be “winding down,” foreign policy experts on three continents shifted uncomfortably.
It wasn’t so much the blatant falsehood of it. By that time, almost every other intelligence agency and government on earth was saying the exact opposite. The statement begged a troubling question: Why did Russia want to create the impression that the Taliban wasn’t about to march into Kabul?
More importantly, why were Russian authorities going out on a limb with such a falsehood?
Recently, when the Biden Administration accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of planning an imminent invasion of the Ukraine, Russian authorities issued such a full-throated denial, it again reeked of dishonesty and misdirection.
The denial, with 175,000 Russian troops staging near the Ukrainian border, constructing pontoon bridge crossings and field hospitals in a general state of martial readiness, was a slap in the face of Western leaders.
It was an extraordinary situation, unheard of since the Cold War, and it called for drastic measures. In response, President Biden tried something, and it was something which couldn’t have been tried during any other time in history.
Instead of world governments watching Russia prepare to invade Ukraine in relative secrecy- planning, strategizing and conducting furious back-channel diplomacy behind the scenes- Biden chose to bring it all out into the public.
Russia’s plans weren’t exactly secret anyway. We have reached a point of satellite saturation which makes it impossible for any nation to stage a full-scale military incursion in secret. We are living in the Information Age, whereupon everyone in Eastern Europe with a cell phone video camera is even now pointing it in the direction of the Ukraine. Millions of ordinary citizen journalists have formed a everyman’s spy network, using social media to televise troop movements in real time.
When the Biden Administration first raised the probability of an assault on Ukraine, it was met with ridicule. Biden was called a rabble-rouser trying to distract from domestic problems.
But it wasn’t exactly a risky strategy: And it might have worked. The airing of Russia’s dirty military laundry more than a month before Putin managed to carry out his plans to invade Ukraine might have put him off.
It might even have delayed the incursion.
The best case scenario with going public with Putin’s plans would have been dissuading him from carrying them out, if only in the short term. The best case scenario was always going to be a matter of buying time. It wouldn’t have meant Putin giving up his designs on Ukraine; only delaying him.
Worst case scenario with making Putin’s plans public was… nothing. What more could he do besides what he was already planning to do? Ukraine was already in the cross-hairs, as anyone living in Ukraine could probably have told you since Russia forcibly annexed the Crimea in 2014.
It makes sense that the conservative press should criticize Biden’s prediction; he’s the opposition. It makes sense that after the U.S. public’s experience with war over the past 20 years, the mainstream press has a responsibility to question more vigorously any potential military entanglements. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price was met with outright skepticism from an AP reporter when the Biden Administration first started raising the alarm about Russia’s imminent invasion of Ukraine.
What doesn’t make sense was the reaction of Ukrainian President . No, February 16 wasn’t “Invasion Day,” as the former-comedian turned President observed, before declaring it a “national day of unity” and taking shots at Joe Biden for his ill-informed warnings.
Invasion Day for Ukraine turned out to be February 23 instead- “imminent enough,” as Secretary of State Anthony Blinken promised it would be.
In response to the invasion, world leaders are responding in all the ways they promised: Economic sanctions, censure, condemnations, and in some cases, outright begging.
This afternoon during a press conference on the conflict, a reporter asked President Joe Biden a very thorny question: “If these sanctions and other economic measures won’t work to deter Vladimir Putin, what will?”
Biden didn’t have a good answer…because there isn’t one.
“I never said the sanctions wouldn’t work,” Biden replied. The journalist countered that obviously the sanctions didn’t work: A league of nations has been threatening sanctions for over a month now; none of it worked to prevent Russian forces from invading Ukraine.
More of the same isn’t likely to make Putin withdraw now.
But there are new questions, and even thornier ones, likely occurring even now to the nation’s top reporters.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has now threatened to use nuclear weapons should any nation attack Russia in retaliation or defense of the Ukraine.
How will he next leverage that threat against Western nations?
No weapons sold to Ukraine or else?
No humanitarian aid?
No accepting refugees?
Is Putin playing a game of “how far he can go”? Does he have his eye on other sovereign states?
Another terrible question is soon to be on everyone’s lips in Washington: Where is the Chinese Communist Party in all this? If a Western nation were to challenge Putin and reinforce Ukraine, would China remain neutral?
Putin is certainly behaving like a gambler with an ace in the hole.
Is that ace Xi Jinping?
If Jinping is prepared to back Russia’s move into Ukraine today, will the favor be reciprocated when, not if, China moves on Taiwan?
Airing Putin’s dirty laundry over a month ago was a bold move for the Biden Administration, and if might have even worked, after a fashion, if only for a time. If Putin was attempting a, “better to beg forgiveness than ask permission,” premise for invading Ukraine on some flimsy excuse, Biden thwarted him.
Had Biden not called Putin to account when he did, Russian forces might have left the velvet glove over the iron fist they intended to use to smash Ukrainian sovereignty. But it is probable that nothing, not even the threat of military escalation, could have prevented Putin from carrying out his plans, velvet glove or no.
U.S. interventionism abroad has not enjoyed a good reputation over the past 20 years. The U.S. public and the Biden Administration can no longer hide a collective unwillingness to get drawn into additional foreign conflicts.
Attempts to mitigate these conflicts with American military might has resulted in less success than world leaders would have liked.
As a result, there is no more stomach for war; no stomach for threatening war. Threatening military action without being willing to carry it out is not likely to be successful in any case. Considering this conflict isn’t over but only begun, and the many unanswered-and even as yet unasked- questions, world leaders may soon need to decide where their new uncrossable lines truly lay.
Vladimir Putin, and possibly others, intend to test the limits of the world’s resolve.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)