As the situation on the Ukrainian border intensifies, the world looks to American leadership, only to find it shopping for gifts and eating ice-cream. President Joe Biden yesterday, Jan. 25, warned of the dangers of Russian aggression, stating, “it would be the largest invasion since World War II” and that “it would change the world.” Yet rather than engaging in strategy and international diplomacy, the president took a stroll around D.C. and called a lid at 3:05 p.m.
While visiting a new gift shop near the Capitol, the president was asked whether the odds of a Russian invasion had increased or decreased. He responded:
“It’s a little bit like reading tea leaves. Ordinarily, with a different leader, the fact that he continues to build forces along Ukraine’s border from Belarus all the way around, you’d say, ‘well, that looks like he’s going to do something.'”
“There will be enormous consequences if [Putin] were to go in and invade the entire country, or a lot less than that as well,” he continued, before making his way to Jeni’s ice-cream parlor.
In recent days, Biden has come under fire for refusing to take action against Russian President Vladimir Putin and adopting a “second move” strategy. Coupled with his recent long-form presser, where he equivocated over what the red line would be in terms of constituting a Russian “attack,” allies at home and abroad are raising concerns that the American president is firmly in the back seat.
And What of the VP?
With Joe Biden seemingly absent on the Ukraine issue, many would expect Vice President Kamala Harris to pick up the slack – especially those who took then-candidate Biden at his word that he would be a “transition president.” But this appears not to be the case. Harris was, instead, found visiting Milwaukee to encourage city leadership (Democrat) to replace lead pipes that transport drinking water to local residents.
Harris did, however, take the time to answer questions on the threats posed by Russia. She said:
“First of all, I am being briefed on a constant basis by my national security team and, as you know, the President, I, and other members of our administration have been in active discussions with our allies and partners around the globe, in particular in Europe, and the bottom line is that we have been clear and consistent for quite some time that we respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, and we expect that Russia would do the same, and any aggressive action taken by Vladimir Putin will be met with severe consequences.”
She then noted, “The ball is clearly in his [Putin’s] court. I can’t tell you what he’s going to do, but we are prepared to take decisive action if he moves in an aggressive manner into Ukraine.”
Who Moves First?
Konstantin Gavrilov, the head of the Russian delegation at the Vienna Negotiations on Military Security and Arms Control, said last week:
“There arrives a moment of truth when the West either accepts our proposals or other ways will be found to safeguard Russia’s security … I am convinced that with goodwill and a willingness to compromise in any situation, it is possible to find a way out to mutually acceptable solutions. We are running out of time. The countdown begins.”
The Russian position is startlingly clear. Moscow has insisted upon a guarantee Ukraine will not be allowed to join NATO, and has warned there will be consequences if this demand is not met. With more than 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border and recent war games with Belarus (also a neighbor of Ukraine), the Kremlin is well-poised to carry out its threats.
With Biden reading “tea leaves” and Harris seemingly in the dark about possible aggressive moves, it appears the American leadership team is hoping this whole affair will just disappear without causing too much political damage. That may not be the case, but it is undoubtedly the appearance … and in international relations, appearance is of paramount importance.
Recent polling suggests that 54% of Americans are anxious over the happenings in Eastern Europe, and cold comfort can be drawn from the commander-in-chief and his number two. But at least voters can rest assured that the president seems happy with his purchases of a sweatshirt, a necklace, and a mug with Kamala Harris’ face on it. And you can bet the ice-cream went down a treat, too.
~ Read more from Mark Angelides.