Quite what Russia’s next move against Ukraine might be is, to say the least, uncertain. In a post the other day, I quoted from an article published in early January and written by James Sherr of Estonia’s International Centre for Defence and Security in which he speculated that, rather than an “all-out invasion of Ukraine,” the most likely next move by Putin would be either the deployment of airborne or military units in neighboring Belarus, an intensified occupation of the “Donetsk and Luhansk pseudo republics” in eastern Ukraine, or both. Perhaps the latter would amount to what President Biden, in his press conference on Wednesday, referred to as “a minor incursion.”
It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion, and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, et cetera. But if they actually do what they’re capable of doing with the force amassed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia.
Those remarks have since been “clarified.”
The White House on Wednesday sought to clarify President Joe Biden’s comments about a potential Russian invasion into Ukraine, after Biden said the U.S. response would depend on the severity of Russia’s actions.
“President Biden has been clear with the Russian President: If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our Allies,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. “President Biden also knows from long experience that the Russians have an extensive playbook of aggression short of military action, including cyberattacks and paramilitary tactics. And he affirmed today that those acts of Russian aggression will be met with a decisive, reciprocal, and united response.”
Despite that “clarification,” it’s hard not to think that Putin will have seen the first draft, so to speak, as the best indication of a U.S. response (or non-response) in the event of Russia tightening its grip on those two “republics.”
And, as for talk of a “united” response, here (via the Daily Telegraph) was France’s President Macron not so long before:
Emmanuel Macron called for the European Union to open its own talks with the Kremlin on Wednesday night, raising fears of a split in the Western response to the threat of a Russian invasion in Ukraine.
In a speech to the European parliament, Mr Macron called for the EU to forge its own security and stability pact with Russia.
“We should build as Europeans working with other Europeans and Nato and then put it forward for negotiation with Russia,” he said. “It’s good for Europe and the US to coordinate but it is vital that Europe has its own dialogue with Russia.”
Mr Macron’s intervention will raise concerns Russia could exploit divisions between the US and EU, damaging western solidarity, as it continues to mass troops around Ukraine.
It came as US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken warned Ukraine to “prepare for difficult days” and called for the West to remain united.
Somehow, I think that boat has sunk.
Germany reiterated its refusal to send defensive weapons to Ukraine that according to Kyiv would help the country fend off a potential Russian invasion. This comes as part of a new German peace policy that aims at restricting arms exports and fostering peace via diplomacy.
If Russia’s maneuvers on Ukraine’s borders had merely been designed to highlight the weakness of the West and the divisions within it (that is, to put it mildly, highly unlikely to be the case), they have already proved to have been a success. That in itself will have consequences, none of them good.