In early April, Liberty Nation reported that Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin tested the United States and NATO by amassing Russian troops on Ukraine’s border. LN’s assessment of the buildup was that the “Biden administration needs to take Russia for the serious near-peer and aggressive nuclear competitor that they are. Russia’s exercising combat troops on Ukraine’s border may be a first test of Biden’s resolve.” It appears that the Biden national security team did not rise to the occasion.
Abraham Mahshie, writing in the Washington Examiner, said that the number of Russian troops at the Russian-Ukrainian border had grown more than threefold to 85,000 since LN first reported on the buildup. Mahshie explained the massive troop increase:
“For weeks, Putin’s first test of the new American commander in chief has been a massive military buildup along the eastern boundary of Ukraine and in the Crimean peninsula, which was seized by Russia in 2014 when the Obama administration and its allies ignored similar troop movements. The U.S. and NATO response this time has been swifter but light on military shows of force.”
On April 9, The Hill’s Ellen Mitchell told readers that “[t]he United States will send two warships to the Black Sea next week amid a Russian buildup of military forces along its border with Ukraine, the Turkish government said Friday.” Turkey, a NATO ally and manager of the Dardanelles Strait where ships enter and exit the Black Sea, said that the United States notified Turkey’s foreign ministry of the warship transit.
Five days later, Biden’s Pentagon decided not to send through the strait the USS Donald Cook and the USS Roosevelt, the destroyers scheduled for Black Sea operations. A Politico article explained: “The tentative transit was not unusual or designed to send any particular new signal, an official familiar with the plans said.” Yet Politico went on: “But after new fighting erupted in Eastern Europe between Ukrainian soldiers and Russian-backed separatists, officials decided not to undertake the transit to avoid needlessly escalating the situation, the person said.”
On April 15, General Tod Wolters, commander U.S. European Command, testifying before the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), attempted to put the Russian threat on the Ukraine border in context with general problems in former Soviet Union Warsaw Pact countries. He said:
“Today, Russia continues meddling in the politics of former Soviet Republics, abrogates its responsibilities under the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, and retains an active presence on sovereign soil in Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia against the will of those countries.”
During his testimony, Wolters was questioned about the current Russian activities on the Ukraine border and whether they were of great concern to him. Again, he explained, “It depends … on the disposition of the forces. My sense is, with the trend that I see right now, the likelihood of an occurrence will start to wane.”
However, as so often happens with U.S. adversaries and their intentions, they either don’t read Pentagon talking points or choose not to follow them. In an April 16 article by Joel Gehrke in the Washington Examiner, he wrote: “Russian President Vladimir Putin is restricting access to a sea [Sea of Azov] that is home to an important Ukrainian port city in an apparent bid to strengthen his military’s ability to threaten those areas, according to NATO officials and Ukraine observers.”
As the accompanying map (courtesy of Google Maps) shows, the port cities on the Sea of Azov and the Kersh Strait are held hostage to Russia when the Russians want to be difficult.
Gehrke explained Ukraine’s dilemma:
” … the Kremlin acquired control of the land on both sides of the Kersh Strait, which connects the Sea of Azov to the wider Black Sea. As Russian forces amass once again on the Ukrainian border, Russian officials announced that they would not allow military vessels to sail in waters near the strait between April 24 and October — a maritime restriction that threatens to isolate the Ukrainian cities and forces stationed along the Sea of Azov.”
In addition to canceling the U.S. naval operations in the Black Sea, President Biden called President Putin on April 13, Mahshie reported, and offered Putin a “concession” by suggesting a summit between the two leaders with “the U.S. leader betting on [Biden’s] own ability to change his counterpart’s aggressive behavior in a one-on-one setting. Biden also appears to have called off a naval show of force in the Black Sea.”
So we have seen recently the Biden one-on-one negotiating capability. You may remember when LN reported on Biden’s conversation with Putin in the early days of the administration. In it, Biden gave Putin a five-year extension on the New Start agreement, when Putin had asked for just one year. Is this what we can expect? To change the Russia’s aggressive behavior by giving it more than it asks for from the United States? It’s a good bet that Putin can’t wait for the next Biden phone call! U.S. allies must be cringing at that prospect.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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