ANALYSIS – Making Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s worst fears come true, President Joe Biden has rapidly shifted the U.S. goal in the Ukraine war from ‘defending Ukraine’ against Russian aggression, to ‘weakening Russia,’ itself as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said last week.
This shift comes as Ukraine continues its battlefield successes which have forced Putin to scale down his ambitions from a full takeover of Ukraine to absorbing its important eastern and southern parts.
Still, this US/NATO shift may have serious unintended consequences and could lead Putin to double down and widen the war. And both Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have made their warnings clear.
Michael Hirsh wrote in Foreign Policy (FP):
The shift may have been what prompted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to declare afterward that Washington and the West had entered a “proxy” war with Russia, risking another world war that, Lavrov warned, could go nuclear. “The danger is serious, real. And we must not underestimate it,” Lavrov said. Putin also again suggested this week, as he has since the beginning of his invasion on Feb. 24, that he still had the option of using nuclear weapons against NATO, saying, “We have all the instruments for this [to respond to a direct threat to Russia]—ones nobody else can boast of. And we will use them, if we have to.”
However, many current and former NATO officials are applauding the shift. As FP notes:
“It’s the only way to go forward,” said former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in an interview. “In Putin’s thinking it doesn’t make any difference, because he would only claim that the Western policy is to weaken Russia anyway. So why not speak openly about it? The mistake we made in the past was to underestimate the ambitions of Vladimir Putin, to underestimate his brutality. At the same time, we overestimated the strength of the Russian military.”
But there are critics too, with other Russia experts concerned that the U.S and its allies are crossing the very redlines they have avoided until now. Hirsh adds:
George Beebe, a former chief of Russia analysis for the CIA, said that the Biden administration may be in danger of forgetting that the “the most important national interest that the United States has is avoiding a nuclear conflict with Russia.” He added that “the Russians have the ability to make sure everyone else loses if they lose too. And that may be where we’re heading. It’s a dangerous corner to turn.”
Beebe also said that Team Biden’s shift raises the prospect for a drawn-out global cold war with both Russia and China that could easily turn hot, with the United States and its allies faced off against an alliance of “a resource-rich Russia partnered with a technologically and economically powerful China.”
Maybe so, but my question is – “isn’t this the reality already?” ADN