In his first TV interview of 2022 given to NBC News on 10 February, Joe Biden urged all Americans to leave Ukraine now via commercial flights because the U.S. military will not come in to evacuate them. Why not? To avoid any possible direct military engagement with the expected Russian invasion forces:
“That’s a world war when Americans and Russia start shooting at one another. It’s not like we’re dealing with a terrorist organization. We’re dealing with one of the largest armies in the world. It’s a very different situation and things could go crazy quickly.”
This seemingly unexceptional statement is surely the most important pronouncement from Biden relating to the crisis at the Ukraine-Russian border since his saying in early December 2021 that the United States will not send a single soldier to assist Ukraine in case they find themselves in military combat with Russia.
In a U.S. political world which long ago moved beyond facts to wallow in some inner fantasy, what we have here in Biden’s latest statement is the beginning of a realization of the facts on the ground, namely that Russia is not “a gasoline station masquerading as a country,” as the viscerally anti-Russian Senator John McCain famously said, nor is it a country with only out of date nuclear weapons in its armory, weapons that by their nature cannot be used without bringing on Judgment Day for us all.
In this regard, it appears that the psychological warfare being waged by Vladimir Putin against the United States and NATO is beginning to bear fruit. There is now an awareness of the danger posed by Russia’s conventional military forces, a danger big enough to warrant the extra measure of caution we see in President Biden’s remarks of yesterday.
Of course, the American administration’s analysis of the crisis remains simplistic, with the binary paths of diplomacy or war, invasion or no invasion. It is now more than likely that the Kremlin will not stage a full-scale invasion. Indeed, it may not have to fire a shot. Mr. Putin is engaged in psychological warfare and he is making slow but steady progress in applying ever greater pressure on Ukraine and through Ukraine on the USA and its NATO allies.
We have heard a great deal about the 100,000 Russian soldiers on the Russian border with Ukraine, northeast of Kharkiv. We learn daily about specialized fuel carrying units, blood banks and other detachments arriving in this territory and enabling an invasion should it occur. We also now hear about the joint Belarus-Russian military exercises which began yesterday just to the north of the Belarus border with Ukraine and within 100 km of the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. That includes more than 30,000 Russian soldiers and a great deal of new military hardware which will likely remain behind after the exercises end on the 20th and the Russian troops go back to their home locations.
What is new today is detailed reporting on Russia’s growing naval detachments arriving for their own military exercises at sea just off the Ukrainian coast. Yes, they could facilitate a landing of troops and tanks should Russia wish to seize Odessa or other towns on the coast having large ethnic Russian populations. However, as an article by Amy Mackinnon in Foreign Policy magazine datelined 10 February explains, the Russian forces have now prohibited navigation, both commercial and military, during their own exercises, effectively establishing a naval blockade on Ukraine. If that blockade were to be maintained after the closing date of the exercises, it could effectively strangle Ukrainian foreign trade.
No one knows whether this is merely a show of strength for purposes of enhanced argument at any negotiations with Kiev over implementation of the Minsk Accords or if it will be used to damage the Ukrainian economy sufficiently to bring about a regime change in Kiev. In either case, Russia would not inflict a single casualty on its adversary by such PsyOps.
So far, so good. With some luck, both the Americans and the Russians will continue to show restraint in use of force and spare us a kinetic war that could spiral out of control in the sense meant by Joe Biden yesterday.
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022
Post Script: 12 February 2022
I was delighted yeserday afternoon to be invited back onto TRT Turkish public television for an interview broadcast live devoted to the latest U.S. troop reinforcements in Eastern Europe and President Biden’s remark that no military evacuations are planned to get U.S. citizens out of Ukraine in case war breaks out.