First of two parts.
Are we bracing for war with Russia if it invades Ukraine? Conservatives on Twitter seem to think so, erupting in a torrent of tweets after President Biden issued a supposedly stern warning to Vladimir Putin last week.
They demanded to know: How could Biden let the southern border of the U.S. fall to thousands of illegal entrants arriving in organized caravans across Mexico — yet be ready to risk the lives of American soldiers in a fight between neighbors in Eastern Europe?
It is a great question. Respectfully, however, Twitter’s righties were missing the central point, perhaps knowingly so, to make a point of their own.
Subconsciously, we all know the U.S. will avoid direct military confrontation in Ukraine, no matter what the Russians might do. We are too fresh from the sting and humiliation of our mangled and mismanaged withdrawal from Afghanistan, and too mired in remorse and recrimination over the past 20 years of war and occupation Over There.
Even more so, President Biden is unable, politically, to commit U.S. troops to combat to defend Ukraine, after his Afghanistan debacle set off a formidable plunge in his approval ratings. In fact, he almost signaled that truth in his video call with Putin on Tuesday of last week.
A Biden spokesman said afterward the president made it clear the U.S. “would respond with strong economic penalties” if Vlad the Invader moves his troops across the Ukrainian border, like so many tiny, colored cubes in a game of Risk.
“Strong economic penalties,” rather than fortified troops and firepower to repel an illegal invasion of Ukrainian sovereignty hardly seems like a meaningful counterpunch from the West. And Biden threatens to impose these measures only if Russia pulls the trigger — no punishment now for the provocations that the Kremlin already has been waging against its smaller neighbor in recent weeks.
It is like telling the playground bully you’re going to start counting to three.
Biden’s tepid response comes despite a de facto treaty signed in 1994 by Ukraine, the U.S. and the Russian Federation. The Budapest Memorandum of Assurances obligates the U.S. and Russia (as well as the U.K.) to respect and defend the sovereignty of Ukraine and come to its aid in any invasion.
This was in exchange for Ukraine’s surrendering its nukes, the third-largest arsenal at the time, larger than that of the U.K., France and China combined.
Putin ignored this commitment when he moved troops into the Crimea peninsula of Ukraine in 2014. Now U.S. intelligence officials warn that Russia is amassing 175,000 troops in 100 battalions along four points of the Ukrainian border; half of them are already in place.
In Ukraine, one former government official tells me that intelligence operatives say Russia has spent six months creating “strike groups and separate army formations of highly mobile models,” based on what it learned in supporting breakaway separatists in Ukraine’s balky and defiant Donbas region.
The risk is that an incursion into Ukraine, say in 2022, could let Russia pull another “Crimea” and seize territories along Ukraine’s eastern border, where many locals are native Russian speakers and identify ethnically as being Russian.
But U.S. intelligence plays down any prospect of an imminent invasion of Ukraine. Likewise, my friend in the Ukrainian intelligentsia says government officials believe Russia will forgo any assault for now. Yet, ultimately and inevitably, the Ukrainian insider adds, Russia will try to annex the eastern region, maybe in two years — or maybe before that.
This owes to a widely held sentiment in Russia that Ukraine is Russia. As WSJ columnist William A. Galston explains, Vladimir Putin shared this view in a recent article he published last July:
“… when I was asked about Russian-Ukrainian relations, I said that Russians and Ukrainians were one people — a single whole. These words … are what I firmly believe.” President Putin adds that “the wall that has emerged in recent years between Russia and Ukraine, between the parts of what is essentially the same historical and spiritual space, to my mind is our great common misfortune and tragedy.”
Ergo, if no attack were imminent, why deploy troops and rile up the international community? Putin is testing the new U.S. president, searching for signs of weakness and any backbone. Thus far, he is seeing few signs of the latter.
The question is, what should the U.S. do about it now? More on that, up next.
Yuri Vanetik is a private investor, lawyer and political strategist based in California. Read Yuri Vanetik's Reports — More Here.
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