Tuesday President Biden and President Putin conducted a two-hour teleconference. Based upon the reports Biden threatened much stiffer sanctions if Russia invaded the Ukraine. It is reported that he also promised more aid to the Ukraine from the US and its NATO partners.
Reportedly, he never put the threat of military action by the US or NATO on the table. In other words, by not threatening military action Putin can now operate on the knowledge that the US and NATO will not respond militarily to a Russian attack. In short deterrence has been destroyed if Putin is willing to absorb the threatened economic penalties. This corresponds to the growing consensus that Putin sees the US and Biden as weak. He has always seen NATO as weak (by looking at the member nations defense budgets), though unwilling to push too hard.
As a note—it never serves one well in an international negotiation to take anything off the table until a desired accommodation has been reached.
If I was Putin, I would get my economic house in order while waiting for the ground to freeze in the Ukraine. Once he is prepared militarily and economically the road is clear for the Russian attack. If/when Russia is successful in conquering Ukraine, he will have solved the strategic problem of Ukraine possible entering NATO and he will have created an economic problem in the NATO area abutting Ukraine as it deals with all of the Ukrainian refugees from the fighting and will have undermined the downstream creditability of NATO. This later may create an unintended consequence for Russia. The next time it acts belligerently, thinking that such behavior worked the previous time, the knee jerk reaction may be overwhelming and greatly exceed Russia’s expectations and NATOs normal modus operandi. In other words, NATO’s future over reaction may actually inflict real damage on Russia.
Biden and NATO need to put the military option back on the table. I would recommend mobilized forces on the southern Polish border prepared to attack and at least partially cut the Russian lines of communication into Ukraine. This threat might be a sufficient deterrent.
Ukraine, a non-NATO member may prove to be the unwinding of NATO, if the above weakness is exploited in the Baltic states. When one looks at the whole Ukrainian situation, he needs to look at a much larger three-dimensional chess board. The Biden administration, to date, has not proven to be very good at considering unintentional consequences or long-term consequences. Maybe the Ukrainian drama will teach them how to operate an a dynamic and fluid international environment—one can only hope.
As I said in Monday’s piece, we will keep our eyes open.