Although it is not easy to know what the new day will bring regarding Russia’s intentions toward Ukraine, President Joe Biden’s Feb. 15 press briefing was much like the groundhog days that have preceded it for the past couple of weeks. Will Russian President Vladimir Putin invade his western neighbor? Will he choose to de-escalate? Did he have any intention of going to war in the first place? One thing is apparently certain, though; Americans will not be sent to fight in Ukraine, should the massed Russian forces cross the border. This, and one other important point, was made by Mr. Biden on Tuesday: The U.S. is committed to defending NATO territory against military incursion.
Mr. Biden pledged to respond “decisively” to a Russian attack on Ukraine but also ruled out sending American troops to fight in that country. The response, as Biden described it, would come in the form of crippling sanctions, imposed not just by the U.S., but by its “allies and partners around the world.” What perhaps should be of particular concern to Putin was Biden’s vow that “when it comes to Nord Stream 2, the pipeline that would bring natural gas from Russia to Germany; if Russia further invades Ukraine, it will not happen.” The Nord Stream 2 pipeline has already been constructed but awaits regulatory approval before it can become operational.
Reports suggest that a number of Russian military units are withdrawing from the region, following the conclusion of pre-planned military exercises, though an estimated 150,000 troops remain in position around the borders of Ukraine and its neighbor to the north, Belarus.
Some observers have pointed to an apparent rift between the U.S. and NATO, regarding the response to the Ukraine situation. However, the commander-in-chief committed to defending North Atlantic Treaty member states. “The United States will defend every inch of NATO territory with the full force of American power. An attack against one NATO country is an attack against all of us.” Notably, Mr. Biden put emphasis on “NATO territory,” as if to imply that a direct military response to an invasion of Ukraine was off the table only because that country was not a member of the organization. One of Russia’s concerns has been that Ukraine’s possible admittance to NATO remains a subject of discussion.
Ukraine shares a border with Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland – all NATO members. Belarus borders Poland and Lithuania which are also both NATO members.
The larger part of Mr. Biden’s address focused on possible diplomatic avenues of de-escalation, and the Russians have indicated they are willing to come to the table. How real the threat to Ukraine was may never be known if agreements are reached and Putin is able to withdraw his divisions without appearing to wave the white flag. If war comes, though, then Ukraine will suffer enormously in what Biden predicts would be a “bloody destructive war” and Russia will also incur losses, economically, financially, and on the battlefield. The ripples of such a conflict will be felt around the globe at a time when most countries are recovering from the disastrous global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Is Putin willing to risk all that?
~ Read more from Graham J. Noble.