Biden, Blob, chemical weapons, cyber-war, David Ignatius, Donbas, EU, European Union, NATO, North Atlantic treaty Organization, nuclear war, Our So-Called Foreign Policy, Russia, Ukraine, Ukraine-Russia war, Vladimir Putin, Volodymyr Zelensky
As known by long-time readers of RealityChek (see, e.g., here and here), I’m no fan of David Ignatius. Literally for decades, the Washington Post pundit has veritably personified the Blob – that mainly New York City- and really mainly Washington, D.C.-based mutually reenforcing network of current political leaders and senior bureaucrats, Congressional staff, former officials, other hangers-on of various kinds, consultants, think tankers, academics, and journalists who have long championed globalist U.S. foreign policies despite the needless national security and economic damage they’ve caused.
Not so incidentally, they keep moving in an out of public service so continuously that they’ve not only blurred the crucial lines between these spheres, but they’ve more than earned the term “permanent (and of course unelected) government.”
So imagine my surprise when I opened my Washington Post Thursday morning and discovered that Ignatius had written what may be the most important American commentary yet on the Ukraine War. His main argument is that President Biden and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin have each decided on a set of goals that could reduce the chances of the conflict spilling across Ukraine’s borders, and especially into the territory of neighbors that enjoy a strong U.S. defense guarantee. This chain of events could all-too-easily lead to direct U.S.-Russia military conflict that could just as easily escalate to the all-out nuclear war level.
But the goals identified by Ignatius are encouraging because they indicate that both Mr. Biden and Putin have retreated from dangerously ambitious objectives they’ve referred to throughout the war and its prelude. For the U.S. President, this means a climb-down from his administation’s declarations that Russia can’t be allowed to establish anything close to a sphere of influence that includes Ukraine, and that would prevent it and potentially any country in Eastern Europe from setting its own defense and foreign economic policies.
For Putin, this means confining his aims to controlling the eastern Ukraine provinces with large Russian-speaking populations, not the entire country
Ignatius’ most convincing evidence regarding the American position is Mr. Biden’s statement on Thursday that with its growing military support for Ukraine, the entire western alliance was “sending an unmistakable message to Putin: He will never succeed in dominating and occupying all of Ukraine. He will not — that will not happen.” As Ignatius pointed out, this statement, “though resolute in tone, left open the possibility that Putin might occupy some of Ukraine, in the southeastern region where Russian attacks are now concentrated.”
Moreover, this Ignatius observation matters considerably in large measure precisely because the author is so well plugged in to the staunchly globalist Biden administration. If he’s putting points like this in print, the odds are good that it’s because he’s heard them from genuinely reliable sources, and even because those sources are using him as a vehicle for trial balloon floating.
Ignatius’ most convincing evidence regarding the Kremlin’s position is Putin’s statement the same day that the Russian forces that have virtually destroyed the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol have “sacrificed their lives so that our people in Donbas [the aforementioned eastern Ukraine region] live in peace and to enable Russia, our country, to live in peace.”
Those last words in particular suggest that Putin now believes a Russia-dominated Donbas can serve as an acceptable buffer between Russian territory and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) that expanded its membership in the 1990s and early 2000s to countries directly bordering Russia.
On this issue, though, big questions remain: Would Putin permit what’s left of Ukraine join NATO (in which President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he no longer interested) or the European Union (which Ukraine still wants)? Or would Moscow let a rump Ukraine do what it wished on these defense and economic fronts? At the same time, the very uncertainty created by these Russian and Ukrainian (and now U.S.) statements makes clear there’s a deal that can be struck before Ukraine experiences much more suffering.
But as Ignatius himself notes, this week’s Biden and Putin positions are anything but guarantees against disastrous escalation. The reason? As I’ve written, the longer the fighting lasts and especially the more intense it becomes, the likelier spillover gets – whether from air raids to artillery strikes to the spread of toxic clouds from exploded chemical or even nuclear weapons, to cyber attacks (e.g., by Russia against U.S. or other western computer systems intended to interfere with the Ukraine weapons supply effort or with the West’s intelligence sharing with Kyiv).
So the Biden and Putin statements may be necessary developments for securing a non-disastrous end to the Ukraine war, but they’re hardly sufficient. Some serious form of outside pressure looks to be essential — either President Biden on Zelensky, or (seemingly less likely) China on Putin. Without it, Americans — and Ukrainians — arguably are left with hoping for the best, a strategy with an historically unimpressive record of success.