His bluff called, outmaneuvered by President Biden, Putin may soon be looking for a graceful way out of the mess he has made in the Ukraine.
For the past weeks, as tensions have roiled between Russia and the Ukraine, President Joe Biden’s Administration has been engaged in a very public, very high-stakes chess match against Vladimir Putin.
As the world has breathlessly watched every move, second-guessing all the while, members of the press have missed the larger implications of Biden’s posturing on Russia.
Biden’s threats of sanctions, his emergency meetings with world leaders; warnings from the U.S. military that American citizens should evacuate Kiev, even the withdrawal of American military troops on a routine training mission in Ukraine: Everything Biden has done has been about one thing.
He has executed this strategy so well, Joe Biden may in time come to be known as the Anti-War President. If the purpose of Biden’s ministrations was to cause Russia to hesitate before invading Ukraine, and the Ukraine to consider making concessions to Russia previously considered verboten, then Biden has succeeded.
If his goal was to impress the tabloid-obsessed press corp, he has failed.
Subverting a violent military confrontation, check. Encouraging two sovereign nations with a long history of military conflict and aggression to work out their differences without U.S. intervention, check.
What more does the legacy media expect from a U.S. President?
The only 100% reliable way to prevent the U.S. from being dragged into a military conflict half a world away is to prevent the military conflict from occurring in the first place.
Once a conflict begins, almost anything could happen. Nuclear weapons could be threatened- or used. Biological weapons could be unleashed. The conflict could escalate into global warfare. The Chinese Communist Party could use the crisis as cover for a full-scale military invasion of Taiwan. Turkey could join the fray by violently pushing into neighboring Greece and the whole world could go up like a powder keg.
Whatever the Biden Administration did or didn’t do; however the press has tried to spin Biden’s efforts to manage the conflict; his strategy of deterrence, of avoiding war, appears to have worked thus far.
It makes perfect sense: President Biden has a strategic wartime and peacetime advantage over his predecessors and he has made excellent use of it.
The Biden Administration is flourishing in an environment where the military actions and operations of foreign nations can no longer be kept secret by the authorities of those nations.
When the Russian military began amassing troops near the border of the Ukraine, dozens of satellites were already watching every movement. Technology is so good now, and satellites so prevalent, any location in the world can be viewed at least twice per day and no amount of cloud cover can prevent it.
Boding even worse for military secrecy, satellites are now so advanced as to be able to read the date on a dollar bill from space.
During World War II, military commanders played a very clever game with enemy spy planes and satellites. Life-sized inflatable or paper “tanks” and other heavy arsenal weapons staged in “ghost armies” were often good enough to foil intelligence gathering.
Such subterfuge is no longer possible.
In the decades since the close of WWII, and in the last 10 years in particular, conducting military operations in secret has become more and more of a challenge.
“In the past eight years, little short of a revolution has occurred in the world of OSINT- that is, Open Source INTelligence, information gathered from publicly accessible data- and especially Imagery Intelligence (IMINT), which analyses images gathered by assets from satellites to spies,” writes former Defense Imagery Analyst Victor Abramowicz for the Interpreter. “The resources now available to individual citizens approaches those once reserved for the superpowers.”
The march from being able to conduct military operations in secret- and even fake them- to open source accounting has been remarkably swift. Information once classified can now be instantly accessed by anyone with a smartphone.
What started with things like the geolocation function labeling the selfies of Russian soldiers and giving the game away has ended with a “plethora of satellite imagery providers” that “generate detailed views of Moscow’s deployment of more than 100,000 troops to Ukraine’s borders,” according to the Interpreter.
Satellite photos of Russian troops staged at the Ukraine border, splashed all over the front of the New York Times, have made Vladimir Putin’s denials of plans to invade appear hollow. Still, there was no way on earth to hide it.
“Despite Russia banning soldiers from using smartphones on duty, now TikTok, Youtube and more provide data allowing for the identification of individual units as everyday people share events that capture their interest- and military deployments clearly fit that bill,” Abramowicz continues, before making clear the magnitude of this new secrecy problem: “84 per cent of the world’s population are potential intelligence collectors, with the four billion active mobile social media users able to immediately distribute information.”
Even trying to leak strategic bits of misleading information is turning into a worsening fiasco for Russia’s President. The harder the Kremlin tries to shape the conversation about Ukrainian tensions, the more intelligence authorities come out of the woodwork to refute the narrative and call out suspicious “releases” of information “clearly leaked by Russia.”
Worst of all for Russian President Vladimir Putin, but perhaps best for the world, is the role strong American leadership has played in mitigating this crisis and keeping Russia off-balance.
Putin’s successors will note how quickly western nations fell into a united front at the behest of the U.S. State Department and the Biden Administration. Germany, France, and other mutual allies have all been deftly coopted by President Joe Biden. Using his long experience as a statesmen and knowledge of foreign policy, Biden has preempted Vladimir Putin in this conflict.
So far, Biden has been staying one step ahead every step of the way.
If the administration now presents Moscow with a way to extricate itself from the conflict without losing face, Vladimir Putin would be wise to take it.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)