Russia’s all-out war against Ukraine is entering its sixth week, and the past few days have seen a rhetorical shift in Vladimir Putin’s goals. Since the Kremlin lies about everything, real evidence of a Russian retreat or change of posture is always needed. Yet this looks like confirmation of battlefield observations that the Russian military has been thwarted in its primary objectives and will now attempt to salvage a disastrous military effort with successful negotiation. As my former World Championship challenger, Nigel Short, once said of peace offerings: “If your opponent offers you a draw, try to figure out why he thinks he’s worse off.”
It would also fit Mr. Putin’s usual tactic of taking territory by force and then turning to diplomacy to secure his gains. Whether feigned or fictional, the pressure from Ukraine and its allies on Russia is bound to increase. Kharkiv and Mariupol now resemble the gutted ruins Mr. Putin created in Aleppo and Grozny. Yet the weapons Ukraine needs to stop long-range artillery, missile attacks and aerial bombardments are still being held back by the United States and other NATO nations.
Tell the truth
This should be the real story, not a controversy over President Biden saying Mr Putin “can’t stay in power”. No leader in the free world should hesitate to state clearly that the world would be a much better place if Mr. Putin was no longer in charge in Russia, and one way to help that happen is to say so. Making it clear that Russia will be a pariah until Mr. Putin leaves is the best way to shake his support among elites, military commanders and ordinary Russians.
The problem arose when the White House tried to walk back the remark, calling it ad-lib that did not reflect a US policy on “regime change” in Russia. This retreat has fueled my concerns about an internal split in the White House between those who feel the opportunity to throw Mr. Putin into the dustbin of history and those who are afraid of any change in the status quo and who would rather deal with the devil they know.
The latter is said to be an echo of 1991, when President George H. W. Bush delivered his infamous “Chicken Kyiv” speech, said to have been written by Condoleezza Rice, warning Ukraine against a rush to independence from the Union. Soviet. Three weeks later, Ukraine ignored this advice and declared independence. The Soviet Union collapsed within months.
The updated recipe for 2022 calls for keeping Mr. Putin at the table in the Iran nuclear deal negotiations and not giving Ukraine the jets and other offensive weapons it needs to win the war. All I hear from other NATO members is that the United States has become the obstacle, and an explanation is in order. Allowing Mr. Putin to keep an inch of Ukrainian soil after bombing civilians should be unimaginable. Conceding large areas of eastern Ukraine to the invader in exchange for a ceasefire would only give Mr Putin time to consolidate and rearm for next time – and there will always have a next time. No peace agreement should weaken the harsh sanctions that finally arrived, eight years late.
The only downside of the end of the Cold War was the loss of moral clarity brought by a clear and present evil. Aside from a handful of traveling companions and helpful idiots, even Ronald Reagan’s detractors could not doubt the accuracy of his call for the Soviet Union “an evil empire” in such a startling 1983 speech. what it was to hear a politician speak so clearly in moral terms. It was also a tonic for those of us inside the Soviet Union to hear what we knew to be true spoken out loud by the leader of the free world.
Mr. Biden’s age may be a negative for some, but he remembers the Cold War. Goof or not, his remark reflected definite instincts: Mr. Putin must go. But the war in Ukraine is also a distraction from its faltering domestic agenda. It’s hard to talk about economic and social issues in the United States when a real war is in the headlines every night.
What is the plan?
So who in Washington is pulling the reins of Ukraine? If the Biden administration wants Ukraine to win, someone in the White House should say so and make it happen. If the US is offering deals to Mr. Putin or pressuring Ukraine to accept anything less than 100% sovereignty over its territory, we should know about it. Tactical ambiguity can be useful, but a lack of unity and strategic and moral coherence leads to disaster.
Mr. Putin’s Russia is a bankrupt gas station run by a mafia that prefers to spend its time and money in London and New York. Offering carrots to these war criminals would set the stage for a return to the appeasement and corruption that brought us to this deadly phase. It would also shake the foundations of collective defense in the region. As Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks told me last week: “We are not afraid of Russian tanks, but of Western weakness.
Excerpt from the Wall Street Journal
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