Russia cares more about Ukraine than the US does
Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here, and kicking off the week with more concerns about rising tensions between the United States, NATO, and Russia over Ukraine.
We saw from the Biden press conference last week, which feels already like a month ago, that he believes the Russians are "going in." That doesn't mean full invasion and overthrow of the Ukrainian government, which would impose massive costs on the Russians. But some form of direct Russian escalation that the United States would respond sharply to and wants to convince its NATO allies that they need to as well.
The Americans are doing what they can to show the Russians they are taking this seriously. And that means, of course, coordination with NATO. And we've seen already some announcements of advanced deployments in the region, F-16s to Lithuania, F-35s to Bulgaria, troops to Romania, a frigate to the Black Sea, all announced earlier today by NATO and supported by all NATO members. But the countries involved include France in directly providing those deployments, which is important given that the French president was talking about strategic autonomy and basically going it the European way, which ain't going to work, but makes NATO and makes the United States look weaker in their ability to respond to Russia right now.
The Americans are also talking potentially about some level of preemptive sanction, again, to get the Russians to back down. Because, so far, the messages from Russia have been escalation. They're the ones taking first their personnel out of their embassy in Kyiv. They continue to expand dramatically Russian troops across all of the borders on Ukraine, including, in short order, into Belarus with massive military exercises starting in short order. And those were announced only very recently, and with the cyberattacks against Ukraine just over a week ago.
So, the new news leaked from the UK, or not leaked actually, announced from the UK and supported by the United States that the Russians have this intelligence plan to put a new government into Kyiv, doesn't really change my view in the sense that it's very clear that President Putin has ordered that there be a plan in place if he were to decide to full-on invade and overthrow the Ukrainian government. He wants a plan and they've put together a plan for him. Doesn't mean he's going to do it. It means that the plan is there. And that's consistent with the course of diplomacy and it's consistent with Putin keeping options open. Doesn't tell you very much about what he's going to do.
But I do think that all of the Russian activities are consistent with, if we don't have a diplomatic breakthrough, and diplomacy is still ongoing but there's no reason to believe there's a breakthrough, then we will see a level of further escalation from Russia, and America and NATO has to respond.
One of the heartening things is that, in reality, the US policy towards Ukraine is broadly consensus on almost every issue. Democrats and Republicans across the political spectrum agree that the US should be making strong efforts to engage in diplomacy with the Russians right now to bring tensions down. Everyone agrees on that. Everyone agrees pretty much that the Americans should provide further military support for the Ukrainian government. The US is doing that. Furthermore, that there needs to be heavy deterrence against any Russian intervention into Ukraine. Any Russian intervention into Ukraine, the Americans have to be very clear that are going to pay a very significant cost. Furthermore, the US needs to get the Europeans on the same page with all of that. That's a hard thing to do, but that still is supported across the board in the US. And finally, across the board in the US, is that Ukraine should not be offered a NATO invitation, but the NATO invitation cannot be taken off the board unilaterally by Russia.
I can't remember the last time I've seen a serious foreign policy crisis that the US was in. We could talk about Iran. We could talk about Afghanistan. We could talk about the war in Iraq. Almost anything you think about, that there was this level of actual agreement across the political spectrum on what the Americans should do. That you put a Republican leader in place, the views would be the same. But the country is so incredibly divided that everyone is trying to find just things to pick on. In part, because there's no utility in saying the other side is right. And furthermore, assuming that the policy doesn't work to some degree, and there's a high likelihood that the policy won't work to some degree, because America's in a challenging position. The Russians care a lot more about Ukraine than the US does. The Russians have a lot more economic influence over Europe than they do over the United States. So the US has more freedom of action if you were.
And it is really challenging to get a strong coalition to agree on all levels of action, given all of the weakness and unwillingness that the United States has displayed to be the global sheriff and to lead the world and make it safe for democracy. Some of which is self-owned and some of which has to do with the nature of the global order. So you put all those things together, and it is quite likely that even the best US foreign policy on Ukraine is going to fall somewhat short. And also that as a consequence of that, the fingers that are going to be pointed are going to be extravagant.
Now, I will say, the one thing that I've been annoyed by that's come from the US and some allies, I'm looking at you, Canada, has been the virtue signaling, the hashtag #StandWithUkraine, which the Obama administration started. I remember when Jen Psaki was putting up that placard, I was really annoyed with her at the time when she did it. And I'm annoyed now, too. It looks weak. The Russians think it's a joke and it's unnecessary. I mean, it's the sort of thing that you do when you don't actually have a policy. But the reality is that the Americans and Europeans, as I’ve just laid out, have a policy. It's not about policy. And it reflects both multilateralism and strength, and also reflects the limits of what the Americans aren't going to do. I mean, you can stand with Ukraine, but we're not bringing them into NATO and we are not defending the Ukrainians directly if they're attacked.
This is not like Taiwan where there's ambiguity on that point. There is no ambiguity that the Americans and American allies, if the Russians roll tanks in, maybe sending weapons to Ukraine, but they are not coming to Ukraine's direct aid. There is not a chance that this is going to be World War III with the Americans and the Russians fighting over Ukraine. That's not going to happen. So precisely for all those reasons, we should stop with the hashtags and we should focus on real diplomacy and real consequences, which I think most of us are doing, but some of us aren't. It's, again, one of these silly things that allows people to have their hair on fire in the media and on social media. And right now this is a time where the US should be coming together because frankly, in reality, we are together, which is interesting and useful for us to remember.
So that's it for me. I'll talk to you all real soon.
- Can talks between Russia and the West prevent war in Ukraine ... ›
- Is Putin going to invade Ukraine? - GZERO Media ›
- Russia-Ukraine: Don't expect full-on invasion, but Putin isn't bluffing ... ›
- The problem with China’s Zero COVID strategy | GZERO World Podcast - GZERO Media ›
- Will Putin invade Ukraine? - GZERO Media ›
- All eyes on Russia ahead of Putin-Xi meeting - GZERO Media ›
- Europeans suggest reviving Minsk Agreement to resolve Ukraine Crisis - GZERO Media ›
- Michael Chertoff: Russia is not a long-term strategic rival for the US - GZERO Media ›
- Minsk agreement a path to resolving Ukraine crisis - GZERO Media ›