June 23, 2021
The British government remains far too comfortable with the presence of Russian illicit finance on its soil. However, on Wednesday, Britain educated the Biden administration on how to deal with Russian aggression.
The lesson came via the Royal Navy’s deployment of its Type-45 air defense destroyer, the HMS Defender, within 12 nautical miles of the Crimean coast. Twelve miles marks the delineation point between international waters and sovereign waters. Since its military seizure of Crimea in 2014, Russia has asserted that the territory is Russian. Put another way, that the 12 miles of water surrounding Crimea are as Russian as the 12 miles of water off Vladimir Putin’s home city, St. Petersburg. The point of this naval deployment was to reinforce the British government’s, and international community’s, contention that Crimea is Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory. It’s a point that requires emphasis.
After all, the Biden administration has shown distinct weakness in contrast to the British action. The Biden administration recently canceled a U.S. Navy deployment into the Black Sea for what one official told Politico was “a ‘myriad’ of reasons, including a desire not to provoke Moscow during a delicate time.”
You won’t hear it from many other U.S. media publications, but this appeasement reflects President Joe Biden’s recent pattern of weakness toward Putin. It’s a pattern that has encouraged the European Union’s natural impulse for similar weakness (the EU on Wednesday called for a summit with Moscow). Unfortunately, Biden’s delusion is strategic in nature. The White House appears to believe that it can forge greater stability in U.S.-Russia relations by compromising with Putin in the face of Russian escalation. This belief is utterly delusional — one might just as soon convince the average Russian to drink whiskey instead of vodka. It will consolidate rather than cool Putin’s instinct to seize the initiative. It will also bring Biden domestic political difficulties when more becomes public on just what Putin has been up to in recent years.
The British deployment allowed the HMS Defender to test its advanced Sea Viper air defense system successfully under intense, near-battle conditions. Infuriated by the Defender’s transit, Russian military and coast guard forces swarmed it with ships and aircraft, and I am told that the Defender was able to track all Russian forces at all times during its transit successfully. The Royal Navy will likely share with the U.S. Navy its radar and sonar data and its monitoring of Russian tactical decisions. The United States will be particularly interested in the data because China’s People’s Liberation Army-navy and Army-air force would likely employ air-saturation strike tactics during any South China Sea conflict.
Ultimately, today’s top line is twofold. At a specific military level, Britain has shown that it can still rule the waves against powerful adversaries. At a political level, Britain has reminded Putin
that it will defend the liberal international order. And in that same vein, it has offered Biden a lesson on how to lead.