Biden’s Stand on Ukraine Is a Wider Test of U.S. Credibility Abroad

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News Analysis

President Barack Obama besides warned of terrible consequences if Russia took enactment against its neighbor. Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea anyway.

President Biden has warned Russia not to nonstop   the troops it has amassed on  Ukraine’s eastbound   borderline  into the country.
Credit...Associated Press

Michael Crowley

Dec. 16, 2021, 7:41 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON — The American president had issued a stern informing to Russia’s leader, Vladimir V. Putin: Keep your troops retired of Ukraine, oregon look harsh economical reprisals.

The informing went unheeded. Two weeks aft that call, from President Barack Obama, Russian peculiar forces moved into Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and, aft a dubious section referendum, Mr. Putin claimed it arsenic Russian territory.

That was March 2014. More than 7 years later, President Biden is present the 1 threatening Mr. Putin with “severe consequences” should Russia nonstop immoderate of the tens of thousands of troops it has massed on Ukraine’s eastbound borderline into the country.

Mr. Biden hopes to person much power implicit Mr. Putin done an explicit menace to instrumentality much punishing economical enactment than Mr. Obama did aft the annexation of Crimea, and Mr. Putin’s consequent instigation of a separatist insurgency successful eastbound Ukraine that has since near arsenic galore arsenic 13,000 radical dead.

There is nary warrant that Mr. Putin volition perceive immoderate much cautiously this time, peculiarly fixed that Mr. Biden has ruled retired nonstop U.S. subject action. And the stakes are adjacent higher: Another nonaccomplishment to deter Mr. Putin, Biden officials and their critics agree, would woody a terrible stroke to an planetary strategy of rules and borders that the medication has worked hard to reaffirm successful the aftermath of President Donald J. Trump’s “America First” overseas policy, which raised questions astir however acold the United States would spell to support its allies and enforce its imaginativeness of planetary rules.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken made that constituent successful a Dec. 12 quality connected NBC’s “Meet the Press,” arguing that the existent situation is astir much than Ukraine’s sovereignty. Mr. Blinken said that “there is thing adjacent bigger astatine involvement here, and it’s the basal rules of the roadworthy of the planetary strategy — rules that accidental that 1 state can’t alteration the borders of different by force.”

But Mr. Obama said overmuch the aforesaid successful 2014, informing “that successful the 21st century, the borders of Europe cannot beryllium redrawn with force, that planetary instrumentality matters.” Mr. Putin paid small attraction to specified speech erstwhile helium seized Crimea and spoke passionately — arsenic helium does present astir each of Ukraine — of the region’s humanities ties to Russia.

Compounding the situation for Mr. Biden is the anticipation that Mr. Putin whitethorn comprehend American weakness aft Mr. Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, which critics accidental signaled waning U.S. resoluteness overseas.

Richard Fontaine, the main enforcement of the nonpartisan Center for a New American Security, said the standoff amounted to a trial of American credibility.

“If the United States says, ‘Don’t bash this, you volition regret it, determination volition beryllium precise superior costs,’ and the Russians bash it anyway, it does rise questions astir America’s quality to execute outcomes, astatine slightest successful the Russian contiguous periphery,” helium said.

To antagonistic specified dangers, members of Congress and erstwhile U.S. officials are urging Mr. Biden to bolster his economical threats by sending much subject assistance to Kyiv close distant arsenic a deterrent. At the aforesaid time, they are imploring him to defy immoderate hint that helium is accommodating the Russian person successful hopes of making the situation softly spell away.

“Vladimir Putin has invaded 2 antiauthoritarian neighbors successful conscionable implicit a decade. Letting him bash it a 3rd clip would acceptable the planetary strategy backmost decades,” said James R. Stavridis, a retired four-star Navy admiral who served arsenic the ultimate allied commandant astatine NATO. “Appeasement does not enactment immoderate amended present than it worked for Neville Chamberlain successful the precocious 1930s.”

Biden officials are intelligibly delicate to specified fears, peculiarly from Ukraine and different Eastern European nations. Those alarms were stoked the time aft the American president’s two-hour call with Mr. Putin connected Dec. 7. Mr. Biden told reporters that helium wanted to “discuss the aboriginal of Russia’s concerns comparative to NATO writ large, and whether oregon not we tin enactment retired immoderate accommodations arsenic it relates to bringing down the somesthesia on the eastbound front.”


Credit...Doug Mills/The New York Times

In a video posted connected Twitter from Kyiv this week, Karen Donfried, the State Department’s adjunct caput for European and Eurasian affairs, confronted head-on the thought that Washington mightiness conscionable Mr. Putin’s demands, which see ineligible guarantees that NATO volition ne'er presumption violative weapons connected Ukraine’s ungraded oregon admit the state into the subject alliance.

“The conception that we would propulsion Ukraine to marque concessions successful discussions and dialog with Russia is axenic disinformation and should beryllium treated arsenic such,” Ms. Donfried said. She was successful Kyiv for meetings earlier heading connected to Moscow.

In different video connection from Moscow connected Wednesday, Ms. Donfried said she had met determination with Russian officials, including the lawman Russian overseas minister, Sergey A. Ryabkov, “to stock Moscow’s proposals connected European security.” Ms. Donfried said she would relay the ideas to Washington arsenic good arsenic to NATO allies during a halt successful Brussels this week.

Some critics of the Afghanistan withdrawal besides objected to Mr. Biden’s determination to waive immoderate legislature sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 project, a earthy state pipeline from Russia to Germany.

“I powerfully impulse President Biden not to marque concessions astatine the disbursal of our strategical spouse Ukraine successful effect to the Putin regime’s provocative subject buildup,” Representative Mike McCaul of Texas, the apical Republican connected the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said successful a statement.

“This would not lone neglect to de-escalate tensions, it would besides embolden Vladimir Putin and his chap autocrats by demonstrating the United States volition surrender successful the look of saber-rattling,” Mr. McCaul added. “Particularly successful the aftermath of the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Nord Stream 2 capitulation, U.S. credibility from Kyiv to Taipei cannot withstand different stroke of this nature.”

There is immoderate grounds that Russia sees things this way. Days aft the autumn of Kabul successful August, Nikolai Patrushev, the caput of the Kremlin’s Security Council, told the Russian paper Izvestia that “a akin concern awaits those who are banking connected America successful Ukraine.”

“Did the information that Afghanistan having the presumption of a main U.S. state extracurricular of NATO prevention the ousted pro-American authorities successful Kabul?” Mr. Patrushev asked.

And Maxim Samorukov, a chap astatine the Carnegie Moscow Center, wrote in an analysis published past week that Mr. Putin had threatened Mr. Biden with “an particularly humiliating rerun of caller events successful Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan showed Mr. Biden’s tendency “to standard backmost U.S. commitments successful bid to accommodate his overseas argumentation to caller planetary realities,” Mr. Samorukov said. “In the Kremlin’s view, it is present clip for the United States to marque a akin rational prime astir Ukraine.”

Then determination is China, which U.S. officials pass has been equipping and grooming for a imaginable penetration of Taiwan, which Beijing considers a rogue province, sometime successful the coming years.

“China volition beryllium watching U.S. enactment to Ukraine, and it volition pass their calculus regarding Taiwan,” Mr. Stavridis said. “All the much crushed we request to enactment Ukraine with intelligence, cyber, antiaircraft but lethal weapons, economical sanctions and — supra each — confederation solidarity.”

But astatine slightest 1 salient China adept doubts that Beijing volition infer overmuch from either the U.S. exit from Afghanistan oregon America’s effect to Mr. Putin implicit Ukraine.

“I deliberation the Chinese would beryllium ill-advised to presume that if the United States did not intervene militarily successful a Ukraine crisis, that means the United States would not intervene militarily successful a Taiwan crisis,” said Bonnie Glaser, the manager of the Asia programme astatine the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “They truly are different.”

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