Biden ‘Leading from Behind’ on Ukraine

The American President is once again leading the free world.

The Big Picture:

WSJ (“Russia Targets Ukrainian Civilian Areas in Tactical Shift and Strikes Kyiv TV Tower“):

Russian forces bombarded the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv and hit the capital’s TV tower as Moscow, frustrated in its plans for a quick victory, shifted to a new strategy of pummeling civilian areas in an attempt to demoralize Ukrainian resistance.

On Tuesday afternoon, Russia’s Defense Ministry said it would strike Ukrainian intelligence and communications facilities in central Kyiv that it said are being used for “information attacks” against Russia, and urged residents living nearby to leave for their own safety. Western diplomats took the warning as a signal that a massive strike on Kyiv’s residential areas was imminent. Some of the remaining staff at foreign embassies left Ukraine’s capital.

Live-cam footage from Kharkiv’s central Freedom Square showed a missile landing just outside the local government’s headquarters at 8:01 a.m. local time, with a fireball charring nearby buildings and cars. Ukraine’s national emergency service said seven people were killed and 24 injured in the strike.

Later in the day, additional Russian airstrikes hit Kharkiv’s residential neighborhoods, killing more than 10 civilians, local authorities said.

“A missile targeting the central square of a city is open, undisguised terrorism,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, adding that numerous children had died in other attacks. “It’s terrorism that aims to break us, to break our resistance.”

WaPo (“Kremlin’s forces near Kyiv as Kharkiv faces heaviest shelling since invasion began“):

The Russian military is continuing to advance on Kyiv in what a senior U.S. defense official has called an apparent attempt to encircle the Ukrainian capital, fueling concerns the Kremlin will adopt the same siege tactics there that have been seen in Kharkiv — the country’s second-largest city — which was bombarded Monday with some of the heaviest shelling since the invasion began.

Five hours of talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations near the Belarus border Monday failed to yield a breakthrough, with the two sides agreeing only to continue their discussions in coming days. Meanwhile, satellite images showed a massive convoy of Russian ground forces making its way toward Kyiv, drawing within 20 miles of the center of the capital on Monday.

NYT (“Explosions Shake Kyiv and Ukraine’s Second-Largest City“):

On Day 6 of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Moscow appeared to target civilian areas with increasingly powerful weapons and a 40-mile-long convoy of Russian tanks and vehicles sat about 20 miles north of Kyiv, a menacing presence that raised the possibility that Moscow could attempt an encirclement of the capital.

Raising already high tensions, the Russian Defense Ministry threatened to conduct strikes against facilities in the city belonging to Ukraine’s security service and to a special operations unit to prevent information attacks against Moscow. Video showed a projectile hitting Kyiv’s main radio and television tower, forcing television stations off the air, according to Ukrainian officials.

On Tuesday morning, an explosion devastated a large administrative building in the main square in Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, killing seven people, according to Ukrainian officials. And the city’s mayor told the Ukrainian station 24 TV that a rocket attack on a residential neighborhood had destroyed a hospital and resulted in several deaths and injuries.

Videos showed Russian troops patrolling Kherson, in the south of Ukraine, as well as an explosion at an apartment building, although Ukrainians kept control, according to Janes, an intelligence analyst. The mayor of Mariupol, a critical port city, said residents lacked electricity and heat after days of intense fighting. Capturing Mariupol would allow Russian forces in the south to join with Russian-backed separatists in the east, isolating Ukrainian troops in the region.

The United Nations said that at least 136 civilians, including 13 children, were killed in the first five days of the invasion.

NYT (“Some Russian troops are surrendering or sabotaging vehicles rather than fight, a Pentagon official says.“):

Plagued by poor morale as well as fuel and food shortages, some Russian troops in Ukraine have surrendered en masse or sabotaged their own vehicles to avoid fighting, a senior Pentagon official said on Tuesday.

Some entire Russian units have laid down their arms without a fight after confronting surprisingly stiff Ukrainian defense, the official said. A significant number of the Russian troops are young conscripts who are poorly trained and ill-prepared for the all-out assault. And in some cases, Russian troops have deliberately punched holes in their vehicles’ gas tanks, presumably to avoid combat, the official said.

The Pentagon official declined to say how the military made these assessments — presumably a mosaic of intelligence including statements from captured Russian soldiers and communications intercepts — or how widespread these setbacks may be across the sprawling battlefield.

But taken together, these factors may help explain why Russian forces, including an ominous 40-mile convoy of tanks and armored vehicles near Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, have come to a near crawl in the past day or two, U.S. officials said.

The Fallout:

WSJ (“As Russia Sanctions Intensify, Several Oligarchs Speak Out Against Ukraine War“):

Several Russian oligarchs are rushing to distance themselves from Russian President Vladimir Putin, as Western countries threaten to squeeze their assets with an unprecedented sanctions drive.

In recent days a parade of Russian businessmen burnished their antiwar stances as governments tightened a noose around Kremlin-connected businesses and property. Oligarch Roman Abramovich, who hasn’t been sanctioned, said that he was helping Ukraine negotiate peace with Russia. Oleg Tinkov, the billionaire founder of Russia’s Tinkoff Bank, a unit of TCS Group Holding PLC, highlighted the work his foundation does to help children and his desire for no war. Mr. Tinkov also hasn’t been sanctioned. Oleg Deripaska, a raw-materials magnate who was previously sanctioned in the U.S., wrote on social media Sunday that peace “is very important.”

“Please don’t draw an equal sign between Russians, the Russian state and the Government of [the] Russian Federation. There are many Russians strongly opposing the current military action, and I am one of them,” said Andrey Yakunin, the founder of private-equity group VIY Management and son of Vladimir Yakunin, former president of OAO Russian Railways. The elder Mr. Yakunin was sanctioned in the U.S. a few years ago.

The events in Ukraine over the past week have ruptured a delicate compact between Western governments and Russian businessmen. For years, the West tolerated funneling billions of dollars out of the ruins of the Soviet Union into high-end property, business and art. The benefit to governments was massive investment by many of these individuals, boosting local economies. Western governments now hope that punishing a cadre of well-connected people with deep links to Russia will in turn put pressure on Mr. Putin.

WaPo (“Biden lets European leaders take center stage on Ukraine“):

President Biden did not announce sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin personally until after the 27-nation European Union had done so on Friday. The United States joined the move to cut Russian banks out of the SWIFT financial system after Europeans agreed on Saturday. And it was Germany that announced the cancellation of Nord Stream 2, a project that Biden initially pledged would end if Putin invaded Ukraine.

Over the past few days, leaders in European capitals — not Washington — have taken the public lead on many of the most punishing actions designed to persuade Putin to halt his invasion.

But Biden administration officials say the latest steps against Russia simply reflect the culmination of what they describe as a months-long, behind-the-scenes strategy to fortify Western unity in the face of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. The result, they add, is a testament to the strength of the transatlantic alliance, with who takes the lead — and when — often determined by logistical and regulatory considerations.

Biden has seen one of his major goals as rebuilding global alliances that he viewed as recently tattered, and persuading leaders with disparate interests and varied domestic concerns to come together. As Russia prepared its attack, officials say, Biden engaged in discreet diplomacy with European allies, and in recent weeks he has encouraged them to take action.

“They avoid the political downside of having the view that somehow big brother is corralling or forcing the junior partners to do its own bidding,” said Aaron David Miller, a veteran diplomat and senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “It’s not just Joe Biden and the United States carrying the load.”

Even while much of the process may be stage-managed by the United States, he added, it helps European leaders domestically by presenting the response as a widespread global alliance and not just one orchestrated by Washington. The strategy is not without risk for Biden’s own domestic political concerns, depriving him of opportunities to tout achievements as he faces low approval ratings and attacks from Republicans who call his response weak.

WaPo (“Democrats, Republicans begin to rally around large Ukraine aid package“):

Congressional Democrats and Republicans are rallying around a new push to provide billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine, hoping to address a fast-worsening humanitarian crisis and bolster the region’s defenses against any further Russian incursion.

In a Capitol often wracked by partisanship, the two parties have found early, common ground this week in calling for prompt passage of an emergency spending package, which some lawmakers believe will ultimately exceed the Biden administration’s initial request to deliver roughly $6 billion in foreign assistance.

“I’ve heard some senators talking about as much as $10 billion,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a top lawmaker on the chamber’s armed services panel, adding he “suspect[s] we will act in a very vigorous way.”

Setting the stage for the debate to come, congressional leaders on Tuesday tried to rally lawmakers to move swiftly. In the Senate, Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on Democrats and Republicans to act on a “bipartisan basis, and in lockstep with the Biden administration, to pass a strong aid package.”

“The strongest signal we can send to [Russian President] Vladimir Putin right now is the United States stands together, together, with the people of Ukraine,” Schumer said in a speech to open the chamber floor.

WaPo (“Rapid escalation of Ukraine crisis fuels fear of confrontation between Russia and the West“):

Russia, careening toward economic crisis under the weight of devastating Western sanctions, has put its nuclear forces on alert as the Kremlin’s siege of Ukraine intensifies.

The United States and its NATO partners have sent thousands of troops and advanced weaponry to harden defenses in the alliance’s eastern flank while funneling billions of dollars worth of military hardware to Kyiv — moves met by the Kremlin with threats of “consequences.”

There is no deconfliction line — nor, according to U.S. officials, does Moscow seem interested in one.

The rapid escalation, observers say, has made the once-theoretical risk of direct confrontation between Russia and the West a tangible possibility with little hope of the tension subsiding, maybe for years to come.

“My worry is that there’s a miscalculation, a misunderstanding, an accident, a mistake” that touches off more widespread conflict, said Jim Townsend, who managed Europe and NATO policy at the Pentagon during the Obama administration.

Reuters (“Over 660,000 people flee Ukraine, UN agency says“):

More than 660,000 people, mostly women and children, have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries in the last six days since Russia invaded, the U.N. refugee agency said on Tuesday.

Shabia Mantoo, spokesperson of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a briefing in Geneva there were reports of people waiting for up to 60 hours to enter Poland, while queues at the Romanian border are up to 20 km long.

WSJ (“As Russian Bombs Turn Kyiv Into a War Zone, Residents Scramble to Escape“):

This one’s purely anecdotal but shines a light on the state of terror.

My Two Cents:

I continue to be pleasantly shocked at how big the European allies—and even the likes of Switzerland, which was officially neutral during World War II and the Cold War—have stepped up. While there’s room for quibbling on the margins, President Biden has handled the crisis brilliantly—successfully doing the thing President Obama was mocked for during the Libya campaign: “leading from behind.” He has ratcheted up the economic pressure as the Europeans came on board to great effect. And, for the first time in a very long time, the United States is winning the information war, selectively putting out intelligence to villainize and embarrass Putin.

There is perhaps no one in Washington more qualified to analyze the state of play here than my former Atlantic Council colleague Jim Townsend. If he’s worried that this thing could escalate into a hot war involving NATO, you should be, too.

And I don’t think the massive outflow of Ukrainians is getting enough attention. My colleague Jill Goldenziel, a leading expert on the law and politics of global migration, notes that the Europeans are being unfairly criticized for their being more enthusiastic about accepting this influx than they were Syrians and other Middle Easterners fleeing that conflict. After all, the Ukrainians are likely going to want to go back home after this is all over. But absorbing that many people in such short order is a nightmare.

Finally, we’ll see how much of that $10 billion package comes to fruition. Seeing a truly bipartisan bill sending massive aid to Ukraine would be welcome, indeed. Not only because it’s the right thing to do but because it would be a small return to normalcy. That Trump and the Fox News crowd spent years lionizing Putin for cheap political points is a giant stain on my erstwhile party.

FILED UNDER: Joe Biden, National Security, Russia, Ukraine, Ukraine, World Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. drj says:

    I am quite sceptical about assigning Biden a central role in Europe’s response.

    Did Biden get the Germans to spend an additional EUR100bn on defense? Really?

    I think it is a lot more basic: 35 years ago, half of Europe was occupied by the Soviets. The other half fielded truly massive conscript armies to keep the Russians out.

    Now that Russia has invaded Ukraine, apparently with maximalist war aims, the Euros are hopping mad that the bad old times could be coming back.

    In EU circles, sanctions are traditionally seen as a tool to influence behavior. But now it’s explicitly about hurting, damaging, and weakening Russia.

    Europeans have this idea that it is almost always best to keep talking with their adversaries. (How else could they have achieved peace on their continent?)

    But with Putin’s Russia, that notion has gone completely out of the window for now.

    I’m pretty sure this offers a much more accurate explanation for Europe’s response than Biden’s leadership (solid as it may have been).

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  2. Scott says:

    That Trump and the Fox News crowd spent years lionizing Putin for cheap political points is a giant stain on my erstwhile party.

    That party has been gone for a long time. Nixon’s Southern Strategy was a massive success. It is now the party of George Wallace, Christian Nationalists, and their fellow travelers.

    I pretty much left during the GWB days and can’t see coming back.

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  3. Tim says:

    @drj: Why can’t it be both? I agree Putin pulled the trigger for this action, but Biden locked and loaded the plan.

    Biden’s team has spent the last 5 months bringing detailed intel and a sanction plan to the attention of governments around the world. The Germans were skeptical, but they listened. Then Putin advanced his forces. Instead of being confused, governments pivoted more quickly and decisively than anyone could have imagined. I expect we will see a complete collapse of the Russian economy over the next few months, followed by a partial or complete breakup of the Russian nation.

    You can believe Biden did nothing here, but history will credit him with winning a war. In all likelihood “Sleepy Joe” will have done it without firing a shot, which is even more impressive.

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  4. CSK says:

    CNN is reporting that Zelenskyy wants Biden to make a “strong” statement about Russia tonight in the SOTU.

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  5. James Joyner says:

    @drj: @Tim: Leadership is often about coordination and calibration. Neither Obama’s smoothness nor Trump’s harrumphing got the Europeans to massively increase defense spending; it took a real threat from Putin to accomplish that. Biden is a skilled leader but he can’t make allies do things that they are strongly opposed to. But I think he’s worked masterfully at getting everyone on the same sheet of music.

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  6. drj says:

    @Tim:

    You can believe Biden did nothing here

    I believe no such thing.

    But Biden did not get the EU to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine. Neither should he be given credit for getting several EU countries to significantly beef up their defense spending.

    That’s all on Uncle Vlad.

  7. Sleeping Dog says:

    @drj:

    But Biden did not get the EU to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine.

    We don’t know that and may not for a long time. Putin launched the war and pushed Europe off the dime, but the European response didn’t materialize in the last couple of weeks. You’re drawing conclusions from a very narrow amount of evidence. I’m not saying your wrong, but I wouldn’t bet the house on your conclusions.

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  8. gVOR08 says:

    In the Open Forum Charon links a tweet saying the Russians screwed up by planning this at the top and not communicating down the chain of command. That probably wasn’t a mistake, but a decision based on the factors that led to surrender and equipment sabotage as noted in the NYT piece James quotes above. The mistake was in not rethinking their goals if they didn’t dare tell the troops the plan.

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  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    Biden will have a hard time getting any credit because of one simple fact: he’s old.

    People on the Left and the Right are so deeply prejudiced that they are incapable of seeing what’s right in front of their eyes because: old. It is exactly analogous to similar inabilities to see women as capable of rational thought, or imagining that Black people might have goals other than playing basketball. It’s close-mindedness and a lack of epistemological rigor. People don’t see what’s there, they see what they expect to see.

    NATO doesn’t fart without the US showing them how, and in foreign policy the US is Joe Biden. Whatever NATO has done it was done because of Joe Biden.

    The EU has never shown a scintilla of backbone and absent Biden creating a unifying message, and working to keep the West united, they’d have no backbone now. The West’s response has been stage-managed in large part by the brilliant decision to say fuck the usual sources-and-methods bullshit, let’s tell people what the intel community knows. This was an absolutely critical decision that has shaped the West’s response from the start, so let’s see, who can we possibly credit with that decision? Anyone but the old guy.

    I am embarrassed for people who are so trapped in their own pre-conceptions that despite allegedly being open-minded liberals they cannot get their little heads around the fact that Sleepy Joe turned out to be pretty damn good at diplomacy. If he was 50 he’d be hailed as brilliant. But he’s old. Old, old, old.

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  10. JohnSF says:

    UK commentator, Ian Dunt:

    Biden has played a blinder so far in extremely difficult circumstances. Got the big calls right, daringly and intelligently released intelligence to counter Russian disinformation, and is now pulverising Putin financially.
    I’ve no idea if he is getting the credit for this in the US – I imagine not – but he deserves it

    Europe has taken taken some initiatives itself, some quite surprising : the personal sanctions list, and first mover on personal asset seizures, direct EU involvement in weapons supply, curbing Hungary’s instinct to play both sides of the net.
    And then there are the decisions of individual countries: Germany immediate defence increases, and abandonment of “neutral” positioning by Switzerland, Sweden and Finland.

    But without President Biden setting up the overall framework, and managing without being strident, it could have happened this relatively harmoniously.

    Also, has let von der Leyen, Scholz, Stoltenberg etc take lead in announcing key points.

    Has denied anti-Americans on left and right much capability to get their usual talking points (“Amercan pushing confrontation” etc) any traction outside the Tankies on one side and the neo-Fash on the other.

    As in the run-up talks, I detect very clear indicators of ongoing coordination of US and France, with Macron managing the European end of the conversations.
    Could be wrong, but it’s what I sniff.

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  11. DK says:

    @drj:

    But Biden did not get the EU to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine.

    Yes, he did, he and his team created the space for it. And he got the world to unite against Putin. It is not a given that the world would have united just because Putin invaded.

    Public intelligence dumps left Putin with no valid excuse — that was Biden’s call. So was the decision to leave his ego out of it and avoid chauvinist rhetoric that would have made this about Biden vs Putin or American imperalism vs Russian imperalism. That marginalized pro-Putin/blame-America everywhere that would have otherwise left the world response divided.

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  12. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    EU has never shown a scintilla of backbone

    Have to disagree there, a bit.

    The EU was never really designed as a Power project (that was the abortive EDC) but as an economic/legal/cultural “shared space”.
    France has made periodic attempts to nudge it to a more realistic view, and in economic terms it has taken on a much harder edge.
    But always tended to get stymied in the military/political side of strategy by the UK desire to play up NATO (with UK leverage with others boosted by being a closer military/intel partner in Washington than France, historically) and German mix of nervousness about any change to a comfortable status quo, and more than a hint of mercantilist smugness.
    Merkel reinforced this. Though able, her default posture was always stolid caution; a classic European conservative.

    With Merkel retired, UK out of EU, and a other states, especially the Easterners, receptive, Macron and the other Power activists have a lot more leverage.

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  13. Sleeping Dog says:

    @JohnSF:

    When looking back on this, the evaluation of Marcon’s role will be interesting. He made the effort to forestall what was inevitable, but not Chamberlain-like. His statements after his conversations with Putin, put the onus back on Vlad and it did seem there was a high level of coordination with Biden. Sort of a good cop, bad cop routine.

    2
  14. DK says:

    @drj: Nope. JV Last says it best at The Bulward:

    Joe Biden used his administration to loudly and transparently demonstrate that Putin’s irredentist claims were bunk and that the looming invasion was a premeditated act of aggression.

    He simultaneously worked—quietly—with NATO and the EU to achieve a larger consensus than there has been on any military matter before the alliance since…well, let’s call it a generation.

    Biden did not draw lines in the sand. He did not personalize the conflict. He did not turn himself into the star of the show. He did not allow anyone, anywhere, to believe that this was about America.

    Since the invasion, Biden has been a full partner with our European allies. He has not pushed them into decisions…Biden understood that these countries needed to come to the decision to fight back on their own, and not be publicly cajoled into it.

    Biden also understood that the EU and NATO are actually very powerful allies and that when they work in concert with the United States, we represent a significant geopolitical force.

    At home, by not being publicly domineering, Biden has made it much harder for Republicans to polarize public opinion over Ukraine. Because Joe Biden has not allowed Ukraine to become an issue about Joe Biden. This should make the continued prosecution of Russia more tenable in the short and medium term…without escalating the conflict or pushing the West closer to kinetic warfare with Russia.

    The West is stronger because of the actions of the Biden administration and Russia is weaker because of them.

    The last month has represented America’s best showing in foreign policy in a generation, and this with a president playing a weak hand in a crisis forced on the country.

    It would be nice if Biden got some credit for this from the public. He’s only making it look easy.

    It would be nice if the media stopped smearing Joe Biden (and if he partially canceled student debt, but that’s another gripe for another day).

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  15. Michael Cain says:

    Biden’s also been a realist, with someone in the administration saying they’re trying to structure the sanctions so they don’t disrupt global energy markets. More precisely, they’re very carefully not calling for the EU to turn off the Russian natural gas spigot. For the US, that wouldn’t even be an inconvenience. For the EU, it would probably be a long and deep recession.

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  16. Jay L Gischer says:

    I think there’s something going on that looks a bit like: “Biden says to NATO, “We think Putin is, at some point, going to push for more of Ukraine. There are multiple scenarios for how hard, and how far, he’ll push. What is the alliance’s response to this, and what is your country’s response to this going to be. It would make sense to think about this and map it out in advance, right?”

    And I think you don’t ask this once, you mention it every time you talk to them. This isn’t what many people think of as “leadership” which is more of “He says “do X” and people jump”. And yet I recognize it as perhaps the most valuable style of leadership.

    One translation of one bit in the Tao te Ching goes, “Under the best leadership, the people say, ‘we did it ourselves'”

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  17. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Congressional Democrats and Republicans are rallying around a new push to provide billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine,

    Seems like just yesterday when DEMs were alone in standing up for Ukraine while the GOP was either whole heartedly supporting their President’s blackmail attempts or cowardly keeping silent for fear of being lynched by the MAGA mob.

    I wonder what changed?

    4
  18. drj says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The EU has never shown a scintilla of backbone

    When Trump was threatening trade war, they told him to pound sand.

    When the UK was doing its Brexit thing, they told May/Johnson to pound sand.

    And now they are telling Putin to go fuck himself. And certainly not just because of Biden (although he certainly helped – no doubt about that).

    When there is a consensus among EU countries that their fundamental interests are threatened, they can be tough as nails.

    Too often, there is dithering and prevaricating, or even a refusal to see the world in terms of realpolitik. And, of course, achieving consensus is always hard.

    But it is a fundamental mistake to see those weaknesses as a lack of backbone.

    Similarly, decisive action isn’t always an indication of acting in accordance with strong principles (*cough* the invasion of Iraq *cough*).

    So, please let’s not pretend that nothing happens without the US secretly pulling the strings.

    7
  19. DK says:

    @Michael Cain: Biden, again, recognizes European nations must conclude on their own that dependence on Russian oil and gas is not palatable. Spring is coming so Europe will soon have eight months to consider where next winter’s gas should come from.

    I hope EU leaders are wiser or at least less greedy and selfish than Joe Manchin. He is using the Ukraine invasion to press for more fossil fuels. Apparently increased energy consumption due to worsening heat and drought will help American energy independence more than moving as quickly as possible towards renewable domestic energy sources.

    2
  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Michael Cain: I’ve been thinking that Putin screwed up a bit by doing this at the beginning of March instead of December.

    3
  21. Jen says:

    It is very, very, very likely that Biden has been in on all of these moves and discussions. Europe wouldn’t be making these moves without discussing it with the US first. We’ve probably been sharing intel on this for months.

    That’s what allies do.

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  22. drj says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    but the European response didn’t materialize in the last couple of weeks.

    The more forceful responses materialized in the last couple of days, actually, some of which were quite unthinkable before.

    That alone indicates that Biden’s role was not fully decisive.

  23. reid says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I generally agree with you, but to generalize, the critics (everyone on the right) will use anything at their disposal to criticize Biden. In his case, age is a vector of attack. Of course, they’ll exaggerate or invent things as necessary no matter the target, so it’s all just ridiculous. The bias is baked-in, and the believers will gleefully slop it up and regurgitate it.

    In terms of people on the Left, I’m not seeing much criticism of him because he’s old. Maybe I’m hanging out with the wrong crowd.

    6
  24. James Joyner says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    This isn’t what many people think of as “leadership” which is more of “He says “do X” and people jump”. And yet I recognize it as perhaps the most valuable style of leadership.

    One translation of one bit in the Tao te Ching goes, “Under the best leadership, the people say, ‘we did it ourselves’”

    Agreed. I don’t think Biden is some master puppeteer. That’s just not how the world works. Counties and their leaders have interests. But George H.W. Bush was the last American President to come to office with anything like Biden’s experience and it shows here.

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  25. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    That Trump and the Fox News crowd spent years lionizing Putin for cheap political points is a giant stain on my erstwhile party.

    I just don’t think it’s for cheap points; I think it’s a symptom of a deeply ingrained ideology that is being displayed, not only in DC but in Red States all across the country.
    But that’s for another discussion.
    Biden is doing a great job. I only hope it’s enough.
    I cannot, for the life of me, understand Putin’s endgame…unless it’s simply Armageddon?

    3
  26. Modulo Myself says:

    Biden seems to have read this situation very well. According to Politico, he took the troop movements seriously and was laying the groundwork for the response, including sowing the groudn for the Germans to cancel the Nord Stream pipeline. Probably half spin, but so what? And he’s been adamant about what can’t happen, i.e. actual NATO combat with the Russians. That said, it’s beyond alarming to have the Russian economy crater while this invasion is happening, and let’s hope that there’s a plan beyond putting the squeeze on the Russians. I want to believe that there’s good intel saying that nuclear option is not going to happen, and Putin is bluffing.

    1
  27. Jay L Gischer says:

    @James Joyner: I didn’t think you did. I just wanted to underline what I think the leadership actually looked like. Sometimes, just insisting “No, we need to look at this” is a very powerful act.

    You know, I was just thinking of HW and how well he orchestrated that whole thing with Iran and Kuwait. Yeah, I think it’s a good comparison, even though we had the ability to involve troops in Kuwait.

    Given that Saddam was a Soviet client, HW must have got some sort of green light from the Kremlin.

    1
  28. Modulo Myself says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    His endgame is several days of inflicting devastating casualties on Ukrainian civilians and holding the rest basically as hostages as he forces either an escalation with NATO or the end of the Ukraine as a country.

    1
  29. Jen says:

    I also think it’s entirely possible that a lot of these discussions between EU countries started happening when it became perfectly clear that TFG wasn’t to be trusted, especially with respect to Putin.

    2
  30. becca says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: it will surprise no one that I will bring up climate change, but Russia is 2/3 permafrost and it is melting at an alarming rate. Northern Russia is sinking. Historically, famine has been a big problem, but not since the end of WWII. That could change in the next couple of years.Climate change is not going to be good for Russia, regardless of Putin’s rosy propaganda on the subject.
    The Ukraine’s fertile black soil must be enticing and the vampires have sucked Mother Russia dry and need fresh blood. Not to mention room for Siberian refugees.

    2
  31. Gustopher says:

    Plagued by poor morale as well as fuel and food shortages, some Russian troops in Ukraine have surrendered en masse or sabotaged their own vehicles to avoid fighting, a senior Pentagon official said on Tuesday.

    Do they qualify for political asylum? In Ukraine, they would be POWs, but it’s got to be a pain in the ass to manage POWs, so it might just be easier to ship those interested over the border. I would have no problem with this country taking in a few thousand kids who decided not to go on a killing spree.

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  32. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I am embarrassed for people who are so trapped in their own pre-conceptions that despite allegedly being open-minded liberals they cannot get their little heads around the fact that Sleepy Joe turned out to be pretty damn good at diplomacy. If he was 50 he’d be hailed as brilliant. But he’s old. Old, old, old.

    It’s quiet diplomacy, and people aren’t used to that. We expect people to be shouting their accomplishments from the rooftops, even when their accomplishments have accomplished squat.

    Quiet diplomacy also exactly right here — we don’t want Putin to be able to say “it’s all Joe Biden, he’s the enemy!” Let the Russian people believe that it is Putin that is the enemy. Biden didn’t rally Europe against Russia, Putin did.

    2
  33. CSK says:

    @Jen:
    Absolutely. I’m sure they had him sized up as a hopeless buffoon even before he took office.

    2
  34. Michael Reynolds says:

    Interesting, if true:

    Ukrainian authorities had been tipped off about the plot by members of Russia’s Federal Security Service who do not support the war, he added.

    2
  35. DK says:

    @Michael Reynolds: If Russia’s Federal Security Service helped save Zelensky from assassination, they’re heroes.

    They could be even more heroic by focusing on a similar plot, in a different direction.

    2
  36. Andy says:

    I think Biden and his team have done very well with the hand they were given. I supported Biden primarily for foreign policy reasons and my faith in his FP was badly shaken by the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan. But here and in other areas, he’s done very well.

    As a retired intel guy, I’m especially pleased that our intelligence indications and warning system worked – at least from my perch as a knowledgable outsider – perfectly and was able provide ample strategic and tactical warning as well as track all the very important details of Russia’s OOB and their disposition – information that, in all likelihood, was passed to the Ukrainians and helped them prepare and prioritize their defenses.

    I am still very worried about nuclear escalation.

    And one potentially bad possibility from unloading on Russia and doing just about every sanction possible at the beginning is that there is little left in the magazine if Russia decides to escalate. And what is left in the magazine is a boomerang bullet that will not just punish Russia. This could incentivize Russia to escalate – what more do they have to lose? Russia could well decide,” well fuck it. The US, Europe, and the world have done everything they could to hurt us short of war or hurting themselves, so why should we hold back?” I would not be surprised to see the gloves come totally off in an effort to force Ukraine to accede to Russia’s demands as quickly as possible. Ukraine has cohesion, but Russia has mass, and they’ve not yet brought most of that mass to bear, but likely will this week.

    Finally, as far as leading from behind goes, my view is that the US should have started leading from behind in Europe back in the 1990’s.

    4
  37. Gustopher says:

    @Andy:

    I supported Biden primarily for foreign policy reasons and my faith in his FP was badly shaken by the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan.

    Can you name a single withdrawal from an unfriendly country that has gone well? Of a similar scale?

    It’s a shit sandwich. Even when made well, with the finest ingredients, it’s still going to taste like shit.

    I am still very worried about nuclear escalation.

    And one potentially bad possibility from unloading on Russia and doing just about every sanction possible at the beginning is that there is little left in the magazine if Russia decides to escalate. And what is left in the magazine is a boomerang bullet that will not just punish Russia. This could incentivize Russia to escalate – what more do they have to lose? Russia could well decide,” well fuck it.

    Cutting the gas supply to Europe comes before nuclear war, though, wouldn’t you think? Burning towns to the ground to create a much worse refugee crisis comes before nuclear weapons.

    I’m not very worried about that — Putin wants to be able to rejoin the international community when all is said and done, and using nuclear weapons will make that nearly impossible. Installing a puppet government and seeing if the squishiest countries break ranks and split on sanctions when the fighting is over seems more likely.

    1
  38. Ken_L says:

    Moscow, frustrated in its plans for a quick victory …

    This is plain nuts. A Ukrainian surrender within three months would be “a quick victory”. It took 8 years to subdue Chechnya, a much smaller country than Ukraine. By “plans for a quick victory”, pundits mean “hopes for the immediate collapse of the Ukrainian government”.

    It didn’t happen. So now the war begins, for which plans assuredly exist.

  39. Ken_L says:

    @Gustopher: Can you name a single withdrawal from an unfriendly country that has gone well?

    Dunkirk. Well it would have been, if only Churchill had realised the French were going to crumble, and evacuated the Expeditionary Force before the Germans broke through.

    The “French allies” could have made their own arrangements, just like their Afghan counterparts if Trump had been in charge last year.

  40. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    @DK:

    A quick one from continental Europe:

    I think JV gets it largely right. Most of the really outstanding decisions were purely domestic. German rearmement, Swiss sanctions and Swedish arms shipments were all reactions to clear voter preferences and national moods. Germany had a thirty percent (!) swing in the preference for war spending (including yours truly, a green party lefty).

    That said, there were several areas where Biden decidedly enabled those. Most important, as always, is the US nuclear umbrella. Without that, European risk assesment of a pushback would most certainly have been different.

    Second place goes to the US intel. The quick and clear communications that there were no “legitimate interests” here and that it wasn’t just a question of limited goals made it clear that a line had to be drawn whereas “just” a full annexation of the Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine might have gudgingly tolerated.

    Thirdly, the central bank sanctions clearly moved Italy and Germany to approve SWIFT band where they would normally have dithered to protect domestic interests. When it was clear that finance was going down it was easy to join.

    Lastly, the clear but muted response by the US created a race to the top dynamic. Where normally interal divisions within the EU would have played out, the framing on “why is the EU not doing as much as the US on issue X?” put tremendous pressure on the member states not to be the one to block a unified response.

    Nearly as important is what Biden didn’t do. Without the usual free world, US leadership etc rah-rah it was very hard for the usual suspects to run the expected “western imperialist aggression” playbook. While it was deployed, it nearly universally fizzled. While a lot of that is due to the excellent Ukrainian PR, the fact that the US let Ukraine take center stage instead of doing its usual “follow us to freedom” shtick prevented the EU from its instinctual play of being neutral diplomatic party to the Russia-American belligerents.

    All in all an excellent showing for the US, removing a lot of the feelings of lack of trustworthyness the US has engendered over the last 30 years.

    4
  41. Andy says:

    @Gustopher:

    Can you name a single withdrawal from an unfriendly country that has gone well? Of a similar scale?

    It’s a shit sandwich. Even when made well, with the finest ingredients, it’s still going to taste like shit.

    Just to briefly rehash this:

    The Biden administration made several fundamental, foreseeable, and foreseen errors in its withdrawal planning. The biggest of these was the assumption that most of Afghanistan would remain controlled by the government for a year or more despite three months of evidence to the contrary. This mistaken assessment, which ignored evidence on the ground, drove US planning. Even two weeks before the collapse, US government officials were still saying there would be plenty of time to process visa applications from our allies, and wind down other activities. The failure to understand what was happening on the ground, and the failure to contingency plan for a quick collapse of the government left us unprepared when that occurred forcing us to conduct an unplanned NEO (noncombatant evacuation operation) with the Taliban providing perimeter security. If the Taliban hadn’t played ball, it would have been an utter disaster.

    These are errors that can’t be hand-waved away with vague assertions that all withdrawals are shit-shows. If you want a recent counter-example, then the obvious one is Pres. Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 in which none of these errors were committed.

    Cutting the gas supply to Europe comes before nuclear war, though, wouldn’t you think? Burning towns to the ground to create a much worse refugee crisis comes before nuclear weapons.

    Nuclear war is a danger because of misinterpretation and miscalculations along with the potential of an escalatory spiral. Cutting off gas could well be part of such a spiral. And the point of my second paragraph is what responses are available if Russia does that, or goes full-Grozny on Ukrainian cities? What more will the US, NATO, and Europe be willing to do? There aren’t many arrows in the quiver left to respond to Russian escalations which will make calls for far more dangerous actions like a “no fly zone” more tempting.

    1
  42. just nutha says:

    @DK: You think that Joe Manchin is in favor of American energy independence? How quaint. Manchin isn’t in favor of anything; he just does what he’s told by his constituents corporate sponsors.

  43. just nutha says:

    @Gustopher: The “problems with taking in a few…” may well depend on how many of them are from central Asia. Nobody in America objects to white European refugees, not even FG.

  44. just nutha says:

    @just nutha: God help them if the conservatives start characterizing them as “Slavic” tho. 🙁