Russia vs. Ukraine: Round I
Public perception of Putin’s war on Ukraine crystallized over the weekend, no thanks to the actions of President-inept Joe Biden.
While Biden was relaxing at home in Delaware, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenski was in the trenches with his troops, sharing grub, talking to reporters, and by all appearances unconcerned by reports that Putin had sent 400 assassins into Kiev to kill him.
“I need ammunition, not a ride,” Zelenski told Western journos, who asked him if he was ready to accept Biden’s offer to airlift him out of his country.
It was a Churchillian moment, and it must have galled Putin into realizing that his cakewalk into Ukraine wasn’t happening as planned.
Ukrainian soldiers decimated a Russian armored convoy over the weekend, and the much-awaited assault on Kiev appeared to have stalled. Captured Russian conscripts appeared bewildered in front of cameras, saying they had been told they were embarking on training exercises, not the invasion of a neighboring country. Thousands openly protested Putin’s war in Moscow’s Red Square.
While events in Ukraine remain shrouded in the fog of war, one thing we haven’t seen – and we would have seen it, had it occurred – is a Russian “shock and awe” bombing campaign, such as the US carried out before invading Iraq in 1991 and 2003.
Where were the Russian cruise missiles smoking the chimneys of the Ukrainian intelligence headquarters? Where is Russian domination of Ukrainian airspace? Instead, we’ve seen Russian missiles hit high rise apartment blocks in Kiev and heard tales of Ukrainian pilots downing their Russian adversaries.
The Ukrainian resistance encouraged former Warsaw Pact countries Romania and Poland, now NATO members and members of the European Union, to announce they were sending 30-50 Russian-built MiG-29s to Ukraine. Those planes are expected to arrive this week, not in the distant future.
Equally dramatic was the U-turn of “old” Europe, in particular, the Germans. On Thursday, the Germans were still balking at shutting down the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, because it would mean turning down the heat in their homes. By Sunday, they joined the EU in announcing a dramatic package of economic sanctions and military measures that went way beyond what the still-AWOL Biden administration had been proposing.
- shutting down Nord Stream 2 completely
- revising the EU’s “green energy” agenda and reopening shuttered nuclear power plants
- direct arms shipments to Ukraine
- banning the Russian Central Bank from the international SWIFT network
- closing European airspace to Russian commercial flights,
Even the neutral Swiss joined the fray, announcing they would freeze Russian bank accounts.
It’s fair to say that Europe has now taken the lead in the war to stop Putin’s aggression. Biden has stolen a card from Obama’s playbook, and seems content to lead from behind.
Putin’s response has been to announce he was placing Russia’s nuclear warfighting capabilities on high alert.
Some commentators have dismissed this as mere bluster. I think it is much more dangerous. First, because Russia revised its nuclear warfighting doctrine some years ago to allow for first use of battlefield nuclear weapons. This has been widely ignored in the West, because it contradicts our “values,” which seem to include a willingness to forfeit a major war in Europe when faced by a determined nuclear-armed adversary.
Second, it shows that Putin has become alarmed at the underperformance of his military, and the over-performance of the Europeans in their resolve to oppose him.
Former secretary of state Condoleeza Rice and Florida Senator Marco Rubio both opined over the weekend that Putin seems to be acting erratically, and is not his former cold, calculating thuggish self.
Like a cornered bear, a weakened irrational Putin could be more dangerous than the KGB thug we knew.
A dangerous week lies ahead.