Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz
Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin during a US-Russia Summit, June 16, 2021, in Geneva.

November 13, 2021. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says that Russia has sent troops to Ukraine’s border and that there are now nearly 100,000 Russian soldiers there. Three weeks later, on December 7, US President Joe Biden calls Russian President Vladimir Putin. The transcript of the conversation has not been made public, but National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan described Biden’s remarks:

“He reiterated America’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. He told President Putin directly that if Russia further invades Ukraine, the United States and our European allies would respond with strong economic measures.” [Emphasis added]

Cyberattacks from Russia affected hundreds of American companies during 2021, but elicited virtually no reaction from the Biden administration apart from more concessions to Russia, such as the extension of the New START treaty, for which the US got nothing, and the exorbitant gift to Putin of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Germany and Europe. The pipeline not only bypasses Ukraine, but also would enable Putin to blackmail the entire continent by closing the pipeline in winter.


On January 20, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken “said the U.S. has been ‘very clear throughout’ that if any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border ‘that they will be met with a swift, severe united response from the U.S, and our allies and partners.'”

On February 12, Blinken “reiterated that should Moscow pursue the path of aggression and further invade Ukraine, it would result in a resolute, massive, and united Transatlantic response.”

Yuri Ushakov, a Russian senior foreign policy adviser, announced on February 12, that no Russian attack would occur: “Hysteria has reached its peak.”

Zelensky said:

“We understand all the risks. We understand that the risks are there… Right now, the people’s biggest enemy is panic in our country. And all this information is only provoking panic and not helping us…. If you or anyone has any additional information about a 100-percent chance of an invasion, give it to us.”

“We should give the diplomacy every chance to succeed. I believe there are real ways to address our respective security concerns,” President Biden said on February 15.

On February 17, at the United Nations, Blinken said, “I am here today not to start a war but to prevent one”.

“No one expected the sanctions to prevent anything from happening,” Biden said on February 24, after Putin launched his attack

Several American strategic analysts, expressing doubts about Putin’s appetite for aggression, said that an invasion would cost Russia far too much financially and in human lives. Some commentators added that perhaps Putin could carry out a limited intervention in the Russian-speaking region of Donbas — a view also regrettably proposed by Biden, who implied that a “minor incursion” might be just the thing.

Putin, who has never hidden that he considers Ukraine an integral part of a Greater Russia, had clearly stated what he wants. On December 17, 2021, he sent two draft agreements to the Biden administration for ratification. They asked that neither Ukraine nor any other country resulting from the break-up of the Soviet Union become a member of NATO, and that the United States and its allies would never deploy offensive weapons in NATO member countries that shared a common border with Russia.

Putin put Russia, no longer a superpower, back at the center of international attention. European politicians rushed to Moscow. The Biden administration issued declarations that remained declarations.

In late December 2021, the Biden administration granted $200 million in security assistance to Ukraine and sent defensive weapons to the Ukrainian army – as well as deploying additional American troops to Poland, Germany and Romania. “The White House” had quickly pointed out, however, what could only have been perceived by Putin as yet another exorbitant gift: that as Ukraine is not a member of NATO, “the president will not be putting the lives of our men and women in uniform at risk by sending them into a war zone.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, after saying on January 12 that “We are not ready to compromise on core principles: the right for every nation to choose their own path,” announced on February 7: “[O]ur main goal is to find a political solution.”

Putin had exposed the weakness of NATO.

Western European NATO countries had, for years, been spending too little on their own defense, and none has a credible army — as the international community, after two German-propelled world wars, had thought prudent. Central European countries, although far less wealthy than Western European countries, spend far more as a proportion of their budget on defense. The only credible military force in Europe is the US army, and the essential decisions for the defense of Europe are taken in Washington, DC.

While several members of NATO sent arms and equipment to Ukraine, Europe’s main economic power, Germany, at that time, sent Ukraine medical aid, not even ammunition. For decades, cocooned in self-interest and totally dependent on the Russian gas, under the leadership of former Chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany had insisted on building Russia’s Nord-Stream 2 gas pipeline, despite potential Russian threats.

The visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to Moscow on February 6, to seek a “de-escalation,” allowed Putin to humiliate his visitor. Macron, facing an election, and icily received, later hinted at concessions he might have gotten from Putin. When Macron expounded that he had actually offered Putin a virtual veto over NATO expansion, Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, immediately announced that Russia had made no concessions whatever. Macron’s ideas, Putin suggested, could “make the basis of our further joint steps.”

Putin apparently saw that the “resolute, massive, and united Transatlantic response” announced by Blinken would actually be just economic measures, as promised, and could be as damaging to Europe and the United States as to Russia. Cutting Russian oil and gas exports to the Western world would raise fuel prices, which have already risen sharply in the last year. Since Biden enacted restrictions on US domestic oil and gas exploration, production, refinement and transport, the increased prices of oil and gas have been hugely increasing Russia’s revenues.

Putin also apparently saw that economic sanctions would create extreme difficulties and probably fuel shortages in most European countries, which depend on Russian gas, which represents 40% percent of consumption in Europe and 55% in Germany.

Above all, Putin saw that the Biden administration’s foreign policy decisions all along have been characterized by extreme weakness and unpreparedness (eg: here, this onehere, and here).

The Biden administration’s foreign policy team defines China not as a strategic enemy but as a competitor. Biden has never held China accountable for closing sending people around the word to infect others at the beginning of Covid 19. The global death toll has just surpassed an estimated 6 million.

On May 25, 2021, the Biden administration shut down an inquiry into the origins of Covid 19. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, as Chinese warplanes were flying into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone, told the Wall Street Journal:

“It’s just an economic fact that the United States must trade with China… I actually think robust commercial engagement will help to mitigate any potential tensions.”

On November 10, 2021, when a journalist from The New York Times asked Blinken if the United States was ready to defend Taiwan, he answered that “we will make sure that Taiwan has the means to defend itself”.

The day before Biden’s inauguration, Blinken had said that the Biden administration would reenter the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and negotiate with the mullahs’ regime to “seek a longer and stronger agreement”. Reports now detail that the Biden administration is on the verge of signing what commentators have called a “surrender pact” — negotiated for the US by the same Russia that is currently threatening America with nuclear war. The new deal will reportedly not only enable Iran to have nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to deliver them, but also, by “laundering” Russian oil and gas, to bypass whatever economic sanctions the US might impose on it. The deal would also reportedly take Iran off the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations and have Iran sell its oil to the US.

May 19, 2021, four months after terminating the Keystone XL pipeline, Biden lifted the sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, thereby presenting Putin with yet another huge gift, sealing the dependence of Germany and Europe on Russian gas, and depriving the Ukrainian government of future revenues from natural gas pipelines crossing through its territory.

The humiliating debacle that the Biden administration unleashed on the United States in Afghanistan showed all enemies of the West the incompetence of the administration and its ability to inflict strategic and geopolitical disaster on the US.

Putin evidently determined that the situation was ripe to launch an attack; on February 24, he did just that. The speech he gave at the time signaled that he wanted a quick win and he was sure he would get it. Events, however, did not cooperate. The Ukrainian army did not surrender. The Ukrainian people took up arms and fought. Zelensky refused to flee. “I need ammunition, not a ride,” he said. The Russian military began suffering significant losses and serious logistical problems as armored vehicles were abandoned for lack of fuel. After two weeks of war, Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, has still not fallen.

Europe began making decisions it otherwise would never have made. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, after decades, decided to raise defense spending above 2% of GDP and agreed to not open the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which immediately filed for bankruptcy. To hobble the Russian economy, Europe excluded several Russian banks and the Russian Central Bank from the international SWIFT network — while omitting the energy sector from sanctions — and began delivering weapons to Ukraine.

The Biden administration could show a shred of determination. That does not yet seem to be happening. Biden, after enacting restrictions on American domestic oil and gas exploration, production, refinement and transport, is now trying to claim it is “simply not true” that he is holding back US energy. Although he had announced sanctions against Russia on February 22, two days before the attack, he immediately added, “We have no intention of fighting Russia.” US sanctions have not affected Russia’s energy production, nor encouraged the Biden administration to increase production of cleaner and cheaper energy in America. Instead, the administration is exploring purchasing oil at spiking prices from the hostile dictatorship in Venezuela — rather than providing jobs and affordable energy at home.

Biden could have decided on a fuel embargo against Russia; oil and gas are Russia’s main sources of revenue. Instead, he is sanctioning the American energy sector. Reinstating the Keystone XL pipeline permit could quickly allow the United States to replace Russian oil with increased imports from Canada.

The courage shown by Western European countries may not last. Appeasing adversaries has been part of Western Europe’s DNA for decades. NATO has long been an alliance where only the United States and five or six other countries honor their commitments. Western Europeans generally preferred a weak American president, such as Biden, who asked nothing of them, to a strong president who asked them to meet their commitments.

Putin likely sees that his status as a strongman is at stake. He cannot afford to lose, whatever the cost. He will almost certainly use harsher and bloodier means, as in Chechnya, Georgia and Syria. In Ukraine, Putin has reportedly already used cluster and thermobaric bombs (also called vacuum bombs), outlawed by the Geneva Convention. Russia’s military doctrine does not prohibit the use of tactical nuclear weapons during a war.

What everyone can see is that the great power status of the United States, already badly damaged by the Biden administration over the past 14 months, has been damaged even more. The US has not deterred Russia from acting in Ukraine, and has not even slowed down or interrupted Russia’s aggression. There was no “resolute, massive, and united Transatlantic response.” There has not even been a resolute and massive American response.

The result of so much US risk-aversion could well lead to further attacks against other countries by Russia, China and Iran.

Foreign policy expert James Jay Carafano wrote that Putin’s ultimate objectives go beyond Ukraine. They are “to reabsorb the former Soviet States and establish dictatorial influence over Central Europe”. If he wins in Ukraine, Putin will not abandon his objectives.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently explained:

“[D]eterrence was lost with Biden’s weakness… Only strength deters war; weakness begets it. President Xi Jinping, Chairman Kim, the Ayatollah – they and others like them are watching…”

On February 4 at the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, called by many the “Genocide Games“, China and Russia published a joint statement “on the International Relations”, criticizing “certain States’ attempts to impose their own ‘democratic standards’ on other countries,” and added:

“Taiwan is an inalienable part of China… Russia and China stand against attempts by external forces to undermine security and stability in their common adjacent regions.”

Those who imagine that Russia has become a global pariah may be too quick to ignore Russia’s ties to Communist Chinese power.

President Donald Trump commented on February 27:

“Joe Biden has turned calm into chaos, competence into incompetence, stability into anarchy and security into catastrophe. The Russian attack on Ukraine is appalling, it’s an outrage and an atrocity that should never have been allowed to occur.”

“We prepared extensively and carefully,” Biden said in his State of the Union address on March 1. Could the result have been worse if his administration had not prepared at all?

{Reposted from the Gatestone Institute website}


Previous articlePart XXI: Response to Bund Report
Next articleWest Selling Soul to Drop Gas Prices
Guy Millière is Professor at the University of Paris. He has published 27 books on France, Europe, the United States and the Middle East.