US hopes to prevent a Russian invasion of Ukraine

MUNICH – President Biden and his top aides admit that they are risking the credibility of the United States by repeatedly warning that Russia is “a few days away” from triggering an aimless war. pretext in Europe could kill tens of thousands of Ukrainians in opening hour, and return the world to something akin to the Cold War.

But aides to Mr Biden say they are willing to take that risk.

They say they would rather be accused of exaggeration and fear than be proven true, if that is necessary to dissuade Russian President Vladimir V. Putin from pursuing an invasion they worry won’t stop. at the border of Ukraine.

“If Russia did not invade Ukraine, then we would be relieved that Russia changed course and proved our predictions wrong,” Foreign Minister Antony J. Blinken said at the Security Council. United Nations on Thursday morning, in a statement that Mr. Biden had asked him to give only a few hours earlier. “That would be a much better outcome than the process we are in. And we will gladly accept any criticism anyone may aim at us. ”

“I am here today not to start a war, but to prevent one,” he declared, an oblique reference to the erroneous but famous case of Colin L. Powell, also presented to the United Nations, about why the United States and its allies to disarm Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Biden and Mr. Blinken made no secret of their doubts that their last, desperate-sounding efforts to avert disaster would likely fail. Their pessimism was bolstered on Thursday by a series of escalations. Russian-backed forces in the Donbas area appear to be responsible for shelling a school, and then claiming they were attacked by Ukrainian forces, exactly the kind of incident Mr. can be used as an excuse to justify an invasion.

Mr. Biden will speak by phone Friday afternoon with transatlantic leaders about Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s border and continued efforts to pursue deterrence and diplomacy.

On Thursday, Russia admitted to expelling diplomat No. 2 from the US Embassy in Moscow, and sent Washington a seemingly contradictory note mocking claims it was planning to invade. comb. It said no such action was being planned, and then warned that it would use “military-technical” measures if the West failed to meet security requirements. with “legally binding warranties”. (It’s not entirely clear what “military-technical” means to Putin, but officials in Washington speculate it could include everything from cyberweapons to the delivery of nuclear weapons to the United States. near Western Europe or the United States.)

While Mr. Biden insisted that “all our indications are that they are prepared to go to Ukraine”, a growing number of diplomats and leaders are flocking to Munich for an annual security conference. they think the best they can hope for is no invasion – but a protracted siege of Ukraine.In that scenario, Putin can do anything if he doesn’t send troops across the border – attack cyber attacks, assassinations, coup plots, severing commerce – in the hope of toppling the government without triggering sanctions.

“What I mean is that he will avoid crossing the border with the Russian military and will aim for short-term options,” said Douglas Lute, a former deputy national security adviser and former US ambassador to NATO. .

“He loves the position,” said Mr. Lute. “Everybody notices him, like they haven’t been for years. And he feels in control.”

It’s all happening on the surface. Behind the scenes, Biden’s aides are searching Putin’s comments for evidence that he feels he may have gone too far – that his military has managed to unify the normally difficult 30 nations to form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. .

Mr. Putin revived an alliance that had spent years confused about its purpose after losing the rival it was founded to contain, the Soviet Union. Now, containment is back. And European allies, if reluctant, have lined up behind a sanctions plan that aims to cut off technology from Russian industry and cut the country’s top banks out of world financial markets. .

While the Russian leader has worked hard to protect his economy from the shock of sanctions – the government has a large stockpile of war and little debt – Mr. Putin may be looking for crevices to mining without risking its own economy.

On Thursday, Mr. Biden continued to take advantage of the fact that this is the first major geopolitical crisis to unfold in a world of open-source intelligence – making the delivery of Russian deceptions a challenge. should be easier.

Americans don’t need the spy plane photos John F. Kennedy showed them in 1962, when he exposed the Soviet missile buildup in Cuba as a way to force the Russian leader, Nikita S Khrushchev, into a secret agreement.

In this case, some of the best evidence is in the unclassified world. On television, news websites and Twitter, satellite photos from private companies like Maxar help settle the debate over whether Mr. The US claims he is adding more than 150,000 troops that Mr. Biden said are massing at the border, along with tanks and a fearsome barrage of missiles.

So there is no question about what is happening on the Ukrainian border. Firepower can be seen there, and it’s part of Putin’s coercive strategy. The only mystery left is what Putin intends to do with them. Initially, US officials thought he intended to use them to intimidate the Ukrainian government, force the country to abandon its ambitions to join NATO at some unspecified point in the future, and prevent a drift about western side.

Then, after Putin issued a proposed “treaty” in December, it appeared he had a bigger plan in mind: to expel the United States and NATO forces from the former Soviet bloc countries. joined NATO, and restored the world order created then. the collapse of the Soviet Union 31 years ago. Two weeks ago, the US assessment changed again: Mr. Putin, intelligence and military officials said, was targeting Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, after concluding that cyberattacks and subversion alone dumping is not capable of displacing government. Only an all-out invasion would do that.

So the Biden administration is trying to test Mr. Putin’s profits. If the issue can be resolved by negotiating a new arms control treaty that addresses Putin’s concerns about two garrisons in Poland and Romania, or rules around military exercises, organized by Russia and NATO, the two will have the opportunity to implement the agreements. said. And they say there are chances to renegotiate the Minsk agreement, a set of commitments made by Ukraine and Russia after the annexation of Crimea. Those things were selectively ignored, on both sides.

But it seems that longtime American officials and many European diplomats are learning in Munich that Mr. Putin has put all this expense and this effort, and put his legacy first, only to Paint inside the lines of the existing order. . He wants to turn it upside down.

Since Putin came to power 20 years ago, “Russia has been challenging that system,” said Angela Stent, a Brookings Institution scholar and former national intelligence provider for Russia and Eurasia, written in Foreign Affairs magazine. “The current crisis is ultimately about Russia redrawing the post-Cold War map and seeking to reassert its influence over half of Europe, based on the claim that it is guaranteeing the security of the country. self.”

That doesn’t mean there’s no way out.

During the Cuban missile crisis, the closest the world was to nuclear annihilation during the Cold War, Khrushchev ended up bringing home his rockets in return for a secret promise Kennedy had made. a few months later – brought out the American Jupiter rocket. of Turkey, where their nuclear warheads were within easy range of the Soviet Union.

It is a historical example that exists in the context of the Situation Room debates about how to negotiate with Putin, according to two participants who described the debates on condition of anonymity. As Mr. Blinken suggested in his speech on Thursday to meet his Russian counterpart in Europe next week, and ultimately organize “a summit of key leaders, amid to escalate tensions, to gain an understanding of our common security concerns.” ‘it’s part of finding a modern day analog device.

Mr. Biden is no stranger to such trade-offs. He was perhaps the last politician still serving in Washington, who played a key role in the debates over how to resolve disputes over long-forgotten arms control treaties with the Soviet Union. called SALT I and SALT II. During a press conference in January, he noted that Ukraine would not be accepted into NATO for a long time, a signal to Moscow that it had the capacity to respond.

And there may be. But by next week, a senior administration official said late Thursday, it may be too late.

Michael D. Shear Contribution report from Washington, DC US hopes to prevent a Russian invasion of Ukraine

Fry Electronics Team

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