Tensions have built on the Ukraine border over the last year, but it seems only the U.S. president is hawking an imminent conflict. President Biden has made clear his view that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is right around the corner. Biden believes a Russian horde is preparing to capture Kyiv – or, he says he does.
Biden’s Hot Rhetoric
Several press outlets have reported that in a private phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Biden went as far as to claim that Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city, could soon be attacked by Russian forces. While such a bold remark has been denied by the White House, Biden has already exhibited a pattern of over-the-top public statements, such as “it would be the largest invasion since World War II.”
According to Debra Heine, writing for American Greatness, Biden told Zelenskiy that Ukraine’s capital could be “sacked” by Russian forces. Biden reportedly went on to say a Russian invasion could occur in February and to “prepare for impact.” Not exactly the routine “check-in” call Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, said it was.
Biden’s comments were part of a CNN report corroborated by Christopher Miller, a Buzzfeed News reporter. In a tweet, Miller said, “My sources in Zelenskiy’s office say this is relatively accurate regarding what Biden said. But Zelenskiy disagreed with the U.S. assessment.” The Ukrainian leader allegedly asked Biden to tone down his rhetoric.
Whatever the private words may have been, after the phone call with the U.S. commander-in-chief, Zelenskiy publicly pointed out the obvious about Biden’s warnings: “I am the President of Ukraine. I am based here. I think I know the details deeper than any other president.”
Nonetheless, the U.S. chief executive told reporters on the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews, “I’ll be moving troops to Eastern Europe in the NATO Countries in the near term … Not too many.” The president’s precision regarding the numbers of troops readying for deployment to engage a Russian adversary seems vague.
As reported in the Military Times, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters the president’s “not too many” meant “Roughly 8,500 troops would be activated to support the NATO Response Force, a multinational, 40,000-troop contingent tasked with responding to aggressive actions against NATO countries.” Kirby told the Pentagon press reporters on Jan. 24, “This is about placing units on a heightened alert. It does not [mean] they’re going to be jumping on gray tails tomorrow and leaving.” Gray tails are Air Mobility Command cargo aircraft like C-17s, C-130s, and C-5s.
At a follow-up Pentagon press conference on Jan. 28, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin asserted, “The United States will contribute to NATO’s response forces, and we will coordinate with our NATO allies, we will make sure that they have the capabilities that they need to defend themselves. Article 5 is clear on this point — an attack against one NATO member is an attack against us all.”
Strong, defiant words from the defense secretary – inspiring even – except for one thing; Article 5 of the NATO charter applies to members of NATO. We’re talking Ukraine here. Ukraine is not a member of NATO. And Russia does not want it to become a member. That is the issue at the crux of Moscow’s anger over the U.S. and NATO position that Ukraine is a sovereign country and can belong to NATO if it so chooses.
But Ukraine must be invited to join NATO by the 30 existing members. An interesting dispatch by Anna Mulrine Grobe writing for The Christian Science Monitor described NATO’s reluctance to offer Ukraine the invitation. Grobe reports, “But that does not mean that the allies are ready to make the former Soviet republic a member. Indeed, behind the scenes, ‘there’s very little enthusiasm’ within NATO for bringing in Ukraine, says Ian Lesser, president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a transatlantic think tank.”
Listening to the U.S. president and his secretary of defense, one can quickly get the impression that they are itching for a fight. Fierce public comments that Russia will invade Ukraine and a conflict is inevitable may be intended to portray the Biden team as decisive. But it could just as easily prompt Putin to do what the U.S. says he’s going to do. Talking tough and talking stupid are two different things. Zelenskiy is onto something when he suggests toning down the rhetoric.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
~ Read more from Dave Patterson.