Timothy Ash: US policy on Russia is wrong and failing
Do you think someone is going to tell U.S. President Joe Biden’s Russia/Ukraine team that they screwed up on this one? They managed to unite the whole of Eastern Europe, except Russia, against the U.S., around Nord Stream 2 by agreeing with Germany to led the pipeline get finished.
This means that 30 years of hard work has gone up in a few phone calls to the German chancellory.
I hope they are happy with their new buddies in Berlin – last time I counted Germany had 179 main battle tanks (most not working), Ukraine has a lot more (over 2,000 I think).
And the line with Biden that the US is back? Back to when exactly? Maybe Feb. 4, 1945, and the date of the Yalta summit when Great Powers stitched up the rest and allowed an Iron Curtain to descend across much of Europe.
It leaves me with the nagging thought in my mind as to what is the Biden policy towards Russia, and Ukraine, indeed if there is one at all?
So far it’s been a string of gifts from Biden to Putin, with little quid pro quo or return favors.
Let’s just recap:
* The Nord Stream 2 deal was a cave-in/capitulation, whatever you want to call it, but a huge win for Putin, no doubt. It suggests kleptocracy wins (and undermines Biden’s suggestion he is eager to fight kleptocracy), and it undermines the sovereign status of Ukraine with great powers seen to be negotiating over its head and on issues that are critical strategic issues to Ukraine. Hugely damaging.
* No NATO Membership Action Plan for Ukraine;
* The US pulled plans to deploy ships to the Black Sea back in the spring surrounding the Russian build-up on Ukraine’s borders;
* Geneva Summit for Putin, allowing him to strut the international stage and appear as a peer to Biden. You cannot underscore really how much of a win this was for Putin as he craves the limelight.
* Still no second-round chemical biological weapons sanctions despite the early June deadline lapsing.
It kind of feels like much as with Donald Trump, that recent US administrations are just so desperate to give Putin the benefit of the doubt, to give him ramp offs, to avoid confrontation. You can look back to Barack Obama administration’s clear decision to look the other way on what I think was clear for all of concerned Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 election. Let’s not beat around the bush but these policies have failed. They have not changed Russian behavior. Putin has taken every reset or concession, put it in his pocket, not even said thank you, and carried on doing what he was doing anyway.
It’s kind of like the US administrations don’t want to deal with Putin, they just want him to go away, and they want to focus on other stuff – the three Cs of climate, Covid and China. But I think this underestimates the risks/challenges from Russia.
China has not successfully intervened in elections in Western liberal market democracies, as Russia has done (US 2016, Brexit).
I don’t think China is looking to bring system change in the US, it is happy with coexistence (perhaps because it is more self-confident than Russia on the durability of its own system), whereas I think Putin sees Western liberal democracies as a clear and present danger to his survival and has gone on the offensive with a kind of reverse takeover, using the power of kleptocracy therein to corrupt out systems from within.
It’s weird that the Biden team, full of supposed Russian experts don’t see this. They seem to have this head in the sand view that Russia is a declining power, and Putin’s power will ebb. But the reality is not that. Putin is more powerful now than in 2011, or 2014, for sure.
His ability to influence elections, and politics beyond his borders, and in the West, is greater now than it has ever been, and significant. The threat to Western liberal market democracy from Putin is now larger than it has ever been, and likely growing. I don’t think Biden really gets this, maybe because he thinks he knows Russia well from his years of interaction.
But that does not make one an expert, as his focus has been elsewhere for much of the past few years – getting elected. Maybe he views Russia still from the failing post-Mikheil Gorbachev, pre-Putin era. But something changed post-2008, or 2011, 2014, in that Russia moved to offensive and really affect actions against the US and its allies – understanding how our systems function and being pinpoint in exposing and acting to exploit our vulnerabilities.
Biden needs to wake up, and fast, as US policy towards Russia is failing and has been falling since at least 2014. It’s wrong in terms of risk assessment and wrong in terms of its response.