The fate of Ukraine and Russia’s future relationship with the West remain uncertain. Biden said he was convinced that with more than 150,000 troops and massive weapons piled up on Ukraine’s borders, Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to invade, despite the West’s offered negotiations on a new European security architecture to protect his Allay concerns if he retires. and the threat of harsh sanctions and isolation if he fails to do so.
But regardless of the outcome, officials, diplomats and pundits have already begun charting the winners and losers.
There are disagreements about what Putin wants out of the crisis. For some, he is laser-focused on restoring Russian rule over Ukraine, preventing its incorporation into NATO and further Western encroachment into Moscow’s perceived sphere of influence.
As if to prove that two can play the game, Russia last week sent Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov on an official visit to Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba near the US coast. The chairman of the Russian State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, is also planning a trip to Cuba and Nicaragua this week.
Others believe that Putin’s broader goal is to drive a wedge in NATO, where divisions opened wide during the Trump administration and have only just healed even now. Still others say Putin simply wants relevance for Russia and himself on the world stage, with proof, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last week, that he can “shake up” the West.
For many Western minds, regardless of his goals, Putin has retreated into a no-win corner. “I started writing it, and I think there are more losses for Putin than gains,” said Steven Pifer, former US ambassador to Ukraine and director of the National Security Council for Russia and current fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation from Stanford University.
“When [Russia’s] Quit troops and go home, what he can say is, ‘I have these negotiations’” with NATO and the United States. “But had [Russia] If they really made a push and meant it, they probably could have had these negotiations without all of that,” Pifer said.
Biden offers presentations on expanding notifications and transparency in major military exercises, positioning of conventional forces and strategic bombers. The United States has proposed allowing Russian officials to inspect Aegis Ashore missile defense systems in Poland and Romania, which Russia says is a cover for enabling Tomahawk cruise missile launches, an accusation the United States denies.
The government has also proposed formally abandoning the deployment of offensive ground missiles and permanent combat units in Ukraine. However, since Biden has already publicly stated that he will not take these steps, they may not be perceived as significant concessions by Russia.
While American military officials may not like the idea of intrusive measures like Russian inspections of defense systems, retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, who served as commander of the US Army Europe and Africa during the Obama and Trump administrations, said “if there is [the Russians] Something they can point to, I wouldn’t really have a problem with that.”
Moscow has denied invasion plans and accused the Biden government of hysteria and disinformation. The government, which has released an unprecedented amount of information to prove its warning of an imminent invasion, said it would like to be wrong.
“If Russia does not invade Ukraine, we will be relieved that Russia changed course and proved our predictions wrong,” Foreign Minister Antony Blinken told the UN Security Council on Thursday. “That would be a far better result than the course we are currently on. And we gladly accept any criticism of us.”
John Herbst, who served as US Ambassador to Ukraine during the George W. Bush administration, agreed. “The Russians will make fun of us and their echo chamber here will have a great day with it, but who cares? … In relation to the great majority of people, everyone will be so relieved that there will be no war.”
If the invasion goes ahead, a current US official specializing in Russian affairs said, “in the short term [Putin] gaining territory and gaining a military advantage over Kiev.” He will hurt Ukraine’s economy, change the conversation and grab the attention of the West, and “have temporarily gained an advantage in terms of narrative,” said the official, who is under on condition of anonymity the sensitivity of the subject.
In doing so, the official said, “however, he is threatening to lose friendly relations with Germany and other European countries. He will have found himself in a new place, much more of an outcast than before. He will have lost a lot of the soft power he used to have.”
Putin has already benefited from the crisis through Russia’s massive oil and gas exports as energy prices have soared. But in the medium and long term, said Ivo Daalder, former US ambassador to NATO and now president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, “it reinforces a European transition [energy] Supply that does not depend on Russia.”
Daalder predicted that Nord Stream 2, Russia’s newly built gas pipeline to Germany, now delayed by Berlin, will never come online, whatever the outcome in Ukraine, where Russia controls two separate pipelines to Europe. The European Union, which has an integrated gas supply system, will never give the necessary consent to its use now, he said.
However the crisis ends, many observers believe that Putin has already lost. It pushed NATO toward greater unity, ignited Ukrainian nationalism and even greater anti-Russian sentiment, and ended up deploying more NATO forces near and on Russia’s borders than when the force buildup began.
But the government’s foreign policy machinery quickly moved to repair the damage. Since then, top officials have done everything possible to ensure that European countries are informed and consulted frequently.
The team has given itself a pat on the back, with Blinken telling MSNBC’s Morning Joe that during the Ukraine crisis they’ve had “more than 200 appointments, meetings, phone calls, video conferences with NATO, with the European Union, with the… OSCE has given [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe]with allies and partners across Europe, even beyond.”
Without the full cooperation of the allies, the government would have had great difficulty in providing a comprehensive response to the Russian threat. But the new advisory spirit has caught the eye.
In Washington, both National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and his deputy Jon Finer have held conference calls to update European ambassadors on the latest intelligence assessments and answer their questions. Although the information hasn’t gone far beyond what Sullivan and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said publicly on the White House podium, an ambassador said the message is still important.
“I have told my colleagues,” said the ambassador, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive discussions, “these are the main people and they are consulting with us.”
Daalder said allies are still scared of what could happen in the next US presidential election. “But in the last three or four months, I haven’t heard a single person criticize what they’ve done” in terms of alliance building. “It was a course in Diplomacy 101,” he said of administration. “They were out there all the time. They share information. Biden speaks to everyone.”
“It begs the question of what they thought beforehand,” he said of Afghanistan and the submarine deal about the highly experienced foreign policy team that Biden deployed. “It’s surprising they didn’t know how to do it because now they’re showing they do.”
So far, the President has not seen a noticeable rise in approval at home, where opposition to his foreign policy is roughly in line with his overall approval level, with percentages in the high 30s or low 40s.
The White House this month managed to fend off a Republican-backed bill that would have immediately imposed sanctions on Putin and Russia and removed leverage from Russia to prevent an invasion. Prominent Republicans said Putin has already done enough to deserve sanctions and it’s “ridiculous” that Biden hasn’t applied them yet.
Some are actively trying to undermine the alliance’s “carrot” in negotiations with Russia over troop deployments on NATO’s eastern flank. On Friday, Rep. Mike D. Rogers (R-Ala.), senior member of the House Armed Services Committee; and Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio), senior member of the Intelligence Committee, released a personal letter they sent to Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in which they suggested that US forces acting in response to the Ukraine crisis were temporarily deployed to his country are stationed there permanently.
There is no doubt that the Ukraine crisis has brought new unity and purpose to NATO, shifting its focus from the last two decades dominated by Afghanistan and terrorism, where many felt uncomfortable, to its original purpose and the much more familiar focus, the defense against Russia. However, if the government insists in the long term that the greatest threat to order after World War II comes from China and East Asia, bringing the alliance along may not be so easy.
“In my view, the future over the next five to 10 years lies in a much more traditional NATO, focused on the threat” on its eastern flank, “on multidimensional hybrid warfare, cyber and space,” Daalder said. While economic cooperation with the EU may blossom on China, NATO is likely to look the other way.
“The thought that Trump and Biden had that this was going to be a more global alliance centered on China,” he said, “I just don’t see it having legs in the same way.”
Michael Birnbaum and Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.