The diplomatic window seems to be closing. While Russia surrounded Ukraine with more than 100,000 soldiers accompanied by tanks, Washington placed 8,500 soldiers on “alert” on Monday. Although no decision has been made, the New York Times claims that Joe Biden could send between 1,000 and 5,000 troops to Eastern Europe to dissuade Moscow from engaging in a bloody invasion.
For Melinda Haring, deputy director of the center for Eurasia at the Atlantic Council, an influential American Atlanticist think tank, this is far from enough. “If Biden wants to send a deterrent message to Putin, he must do it now and with force,” she explains. According to her, “Putin is using Ukraine as a lever to try to destroy NATO. He looks at the map of the world and sees weaknesses everywhere”.
Is there still hope for diplomacy?
Diplomacy hangs by a thread. It did not lead to anything concrete last week, apart from a few conciliatory remarks and more meetings. There is no de-escalation. On the contrary, the situation is getting worse. Russia’s actions are of growing concern, with additional troops deployed, including in Belarus.
Can sending 1,000 or 5,000 soldiers to neighboring countries have an impact?
The real question, more than numbers, is what their capacity will be, and whether it’s enough for Putin to pay attention to. So far, our decisions and statements are hesitant. Military experts suggest the following directions: boosting intelligence cooperation with Kyiv, increasing the number of special forces in Ukraine and surrounding countries in training capacity, and mobilizing more Marine task force In Romania.
But most importantly, Biden has ruled out sending ground troops to Ukraine, but not sending planes and ships. The United States has an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean. The time has come to say: “He will move in response to Russia’s action in Ukraine. So that it can be used if Putin continues to escalate, with the possibility of long-range strikes. If you want to be reckless, be reckless. If Biden wants to send a deterrent message to Putin, he must do it now, and with force.
What role should Joe Biden play on the international scene after his mixed messages?
Putin will probably not venture massively into Ukraine before February. So there is still time for diplomacy, even if we can be skeptical, and especially for deterrence. But there is a political role Biden needs to play right now. He must start by getting on a plane right away and going to rally Europe in the face of the Russian threat, and make sure that Germany does not back down. He must come up with a plan to position more American troops in Europe. There are only 40,000 left. It is less than in a university football stadium. He needs a project to reduce Europe’s energy dependence on Russian natural gas and kill the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline (between Russia and Germany under the Baltic Sea). He must play the leadership at the UN. China and Russia will put their veto, but you have to put your fist on the table. And why do we still not have an ambassador in Ukraine? We are on the verge of a war. If the escalation continues, we risk the largest land conflict since the Second World War.
Why not before February, because of the too mild winter with the problematic mud for the tanks?
The weather plays an important role but is not deterministic. Even if the ground was frozen in mid-February, Russia currently only has between 120,000 and 140,000 soldiers. It’s not enough for an invasion. You need at least 200,000, or even 300,000, or about twice as many. There’s not enough fuel, no field hospital. The logistics are not there but the propaganda is rising in the state media. It’s due whataboutism typical Russian: “It’s not us, it’s NATO that surrounds us. “It’s obviously pure bullshit.
Putin demands that Ukraine never join NATO, and the United States categorically refuses. A compromise seems impossible…
Some things can be negotiated at the margins, but the two parties have a fundamental disagreement over NATO’s “open door” policy to Ukraine. There is no diplomatic sleight of hand to resolve this squaring of the circle.
What would a conflict between Russia and Ukraine look like?
There are eight or nine possible scenarios for Putin. He probably doesn’t want a war, if it can be avoided and he can get the same results without it. The most likely scenario is a combination of electricity and heating cuts in Ukraine for a black-out complete, massive cyberattacks, the annihilation of the Ukrainian Navy and also the air force, which is small, the elimination of Ukrainian generals and the destruction of major weapons. In short, bring Ukraine to its knees to force it to negotiate.
Another scenario mentioned is that of an attempt to install a pro-Russian government in Ukraine. It is undoubtedly doomed to failure. Ukraine has fundamentally changed since 2014, and Ukrainians will never accept a Russian stooge as their leader. The last scenario is an all-out invasion. The Russian army can do what it wants in Ukraine, bring its planes, its tanks, but it’s much harder to hold on once there. The Russians are not going to risk it, they are not stupid. They know the history of Ukraine and know that there will be fierce resistance.
What does Putin really want in the long term?
Vladimir Putin wants to annihilate Ukraine’s turn towards the West. He wants to humiliate the West. He uses Ukraine as a lever to try to destroy NATO. And he wants to make the United States appear pathetic and weak. He wants to show that he is the boss in Europe. The West underestimates its ambitions, which go far beyond Ukraine. He has already started the process to gradually annex Belarus, and, if he thinks he can get away with it without major consequences, will continue with Ukraine as much as possible. Then he will put pressure on Poland, the Baltic States, Romania and Bulgaria. His appetite is boundless.
What motivates him? Restore the past greatness, or at least the influence, of the former Soviet Union?
Putin is getting old. He admires Ivan the Great and Stalin. He thinks about the marks he will leave, and wants to be seen in the history books as a great leader. This requires the capture of large portions of territory. It flatters his vanity. He looks at the world map and sees weaknesses everywhere. In Europe, Merkel is gone. America is occupied with Covid-19, Afghanistan, China. Biden’s approval rating is plummeting. Putin had a good year last year: energy prices are up, he got a one-on-one with Biden. Russia is treated as a superpower. He loves it.
How does he view Ukraine?
The Kremlin’s rhetoric is bellicose and aggressive, sometimes anti-Semitic. Putin rejects Ukrainian identity and makes it an argument for war. And he is angry that he failed to reach an agreement with President Zelensky. When he was elected in 2019, he had no experience, and Putin thought he was lucky. But Zelensky resisted, and keeps talking about joining NATO. It drives Putin crazy. He sees NATO’s influence growing in Ukraine. 58% of Ukrainians want to join NATO. Putin sees now as the time to attack. If he waits, Ukraine will lean too far west for him to bring her back into his sphere of influence.