By Tom Rogan
July 20, 2021
With words that do not exactly engender confidence as to its negotiating ability (relevant to the Iran nuclear deal and a new arms control agreement with Russia, for example), the Biden administration appears set to send Vladimir Putin, Nikolai Patrushev, and the Kremlin security elite into hysterics.
Putin will have been concerned about the evolving contours of a looming U.S.-Germany deal on how to protect Ukrainian interests following the completion of the Nord Stream 2 energy pipeline. Sanctioned by former President Donald Trump and Congress, but acquiesced to by President Joe Biden, the deal will undercut Ukraine’s economy and Europe’s energy security. Biden and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany had pledged a deal that would mitigate these concerns.
It seems Putin needn’t have worried. Just consider this quote, on Tuesday, from Bloomberg: “A senior U.S. official, who asked not to be identified discussing the terms of the deal, said the language was intentionally ambiguous because the administration didn’t want to give Russia a road map of its response to any malign behavior. The official didn’t rule out that such action could include limiting gas flows from Russia to Germany.”
This is mindbogglingly pathetic stuff.
But it is weakness and stupidity of a particularly dangerous kind. As Politico reports, it joins a Biden administration effort to pressure Ukraine into staying silent about its own very legitimate fears over what this deal might look like. In tandem, we see here the antithesis of a deal that might earn Russian respect and the corresponding deterrence of Russian aggression. The Russians respect clarity of purpose and commensurate action. They do not respect rhetoric bound to an aura of political hesitation. Putin’s “Siloviki” inner circle are killers who poison activists on their own soil, poison innocent civilians on foreign soil, use microwave weapons against American diplomats, and enjoy bombing maternity hospitals. They are not, put simply, men who respect ambiguous rhetoric.
Considering the German government’s perennial deference to Putin, and the Biden administration’s supplicant policy to Moscow (at least so far), the aforementioned U.S. official’s statement reeks of appeasement. Unless any deal entails immediate snap-sanctions for any Russian aggression, Germany will prevaricate into inaction. It gets worse. At her press conference with Biden last Thursday, Merkel hinted that any deal to support Ukraine post-Nord Stream 2 would be limited to the mid-2020s. It thus seems that time, as well as political leverage, is on Putin’s side.
The Russian leader seems to know it.
As Biden and Merkel dance with words, Putin is dancing with war. The Russian leader retains massed combined arms formations on Ukraine’s borders. Last week, he wrote a love letter to Russian territorial supremacism and the notion of a Ukraine that can exist only under Russian dominion.
Put another way, Biden’s pledge to get tough on Russia isn’t looking too credible