Analysis: Putin’s assault on Ukraine foils Biden’s strategy and tests leadership

WASHINGTON, Feb 24 (Reuters) – He has threatened to impose the toughest sanctions ever imposed on Russia. He worked to galvanize American allies into a united front. He has supplied Ukraine with more weapons than any US president before him. And he has bolstered US forces on NATO’s eastern flank to reassure his commitment.

Despite US President Joe Biden’s efforts to prevent a Russian attack on Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin was undeterred as his forces invaded on Thursday in a massive assault by land, air and sea. After weeks of diplomacy unsuccessfully, Russian missiles rained down on Ukrainian cities and troops crossed the border from Russia and Belarus. Read more

How Biden handles the ongoing crisis, which Western officials say could escalate into the bloodiest European conflict since World War II, is expected to have profound implications for his political fortunes and U.S. relations with the United States. world.

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Biden promised that the United States and its allies would respond decisively to Russia’s “unprovoked and unwarranted attack.” Read more

But his handling of the biggest international crisis of his presidency has so far been seen as mixed.

Biden was always going to be limited because his administration had made it clear that it would do whatever it could to help Ukraine defend itself, but was not going to send troops into the field.

His preference for diplomacy and sanctions reflects America’s lack of appetite for intervention after the quagmires of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Putin had the advantage of knowing that Biden was not going to go to war with another nuclear power to protect a country that shared a long border with Russia – and with which Washington had no defense agreement.

FOCUS ON THE EASTERN FLANK OF NATO

Biden has instead focused on coordinating with NATO allies, particularly those in the East worried about the fallout from the buildup of 150,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders.

Washington launched a first round of sanctions after Putin ordered troops into two breakaway regions controlled by separatists after recognizing them as independent on February 21. It was a warning shot that failed to stave off Thursday’s action.

In the prequel, Biden’s messaging strategy was to issue dire predictions of an impending invasion to show he knew what Putin was up to — even if he couldn’t stop it.

A key outcome was to reinvigorate a Western military alliance that had fallen into disrepair under Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, who questioned the value of NATO.

A senior European diplomat called Biden’s consultations with his allies “exemplary,” unlike how many partners viewed the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan last year.

Some analysts, however, questioned whether deploying a few thousand more US troops to Germany, Poland and Romania was enough, and suggested Biden could have done more to maintain a credible military option.

“One of the shortcomings is that the deterrence package that we’ve developed is kind of asymmetrical in that it’s primarily economic and we’re facing a military threat,” said Ian Kelly, former US ambassador to the United States. Organization for Security and Cooperation. in Europe (OSCE) and in Georgia.

Kelly said Biden could have called for the NATO Response Force to be activated and sent to Poland and the Baltic states, with the message: “You have massed troops on your border. We are massing troops at our border; we will withdraw when you withdraw.”

PRAISE FOR ALLIANCE BUILDING

Analysts credit Biden with working with allies to prepare sanctions aimed at crippling the Russian economy and hitting Putin’s inner circle. He persuaded Germany, long seen as the weak link, to freeze permits for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Read more

Next steps could include an attempt to sever Russia’s ties with the global financial system. Read more

Some U.S. lawmakers have argued it would have been more effective to impose sanctions on Russia earlier, but Biden officials have insisted that would have lessened their impact now.

U.S. officials have acknowledged the sanctions could spur higher oil prices, adding to Biden’s challenge of tackling inflation.

It remains to be seen whether the sanctions will make Putin back down.

Biden’s decision to declassify intelligence about what he claimed were Russian plots to fabricate pretexts for an invasion of Ukraine was also hailed for countering Putin’s disinformation.

Andrew Weiss, a Russian expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank in Washington, said it “kept Putin in the hot seat.”

But the administration has been criticized for refusing to provide concrete evidence. Some commentators have recalled the intelligence claims used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq from a renewed nuclear program that turned out to be non-existent.

NATO’S “OPEN DOOR”

Biden has also been praised by Western governments for standing at NATO’s “open door” for aspiring members. But some critics said Biden should have been more explicit about Ukraine’s distance from entry, given that one of Putin’s key demands was to avoid further eastward expansion of the pact. security.

Biden’s response could also have implications for US-China relations. There are fears that if Biden seems too soft on Moscow, China could view him as acquiescence in acting against self-governing Taiwan, which Beijing sees as a renegade province. Read more

As the crisis unfolded, Biden regularly addressed world leaders, including Putin himself, taking a firm stand with the former KGB officer, to whom Trump had shown deference.

Behind closed doors, an intergovernmental “Tiger Team” conducted simulation exercises on all possible scenarios.

Putin’s challenge could give Republicans a club to use against Biden and his fellow Democrats in November’s midterm congressional elections, which will decide the balance of power in Washington.

And Biden’s strategy leading up to the Russian attack will come under closer scrutiny as he charts the way forward.

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Reporting by Matt Spetalnick, Simon Lewis, Steve Holland, Michelle Nichols, Humeyra Pamuk, David Brunnstrom, Idrees Ali; Written by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Jonathan Oatis

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