Shock and awe. This is precisely the feeling that was felt on Jan. 19 by the Western and Ukrainian cast of the series “The World Is Preparing To Repel Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine.” That day, one of the lead members of the cast, U.S. President Joe Biden, did not play his part according to the script. Instead of threatening Russia with hellish sanctions in unison with others in the event of troops entering Ukraine, Biden signaled that the deployment of troops could happen in different ways, and the consequences could vary. “I think what you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades. And it depends on what it does. It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, et cetera,” said Biden. The minor incursion was understood specifically as the deployment of Russian troops into the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic, and the subsequent recognition of these territories by Moscow.
Several days have passed since Biden’s statement; however, the rest of the cast, in addition to the audience and critics, is still trying to figure out what it was. Was it a mistake or a provocation? Or the long-awaited display of American pragmatism?
A Sick Man
America’s official position is that Biden’s statement was misunderstood. “President Biden has been clear with the Russian president: If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our Allies,” stated White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. “President Biden also knows from long experience that the Russians have an extensive playbook of aggression short of military action, including cyberattacks and paramilitary tactics. And he affirmed today that those acts of Russian aggression will be met with a decisive, reciprocal, and united response.”
Congress has taken a similar position. U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker stated, “there was distress among Democrats and Republicans about what the president had said,” and “it was a misstatement of American policy.” This version is actually plausible. It is well known that Biden suffers from health issues, periodically speaks nonsense and gets disoriented. The controversial phrase “minor incursion” could have easily been a consequence of these issues, which is what Biden’s Republican opponents, who believe he has no right to continue his presidency, are openly talking about.
However, this version has two big disadvantages. Firstly, despite Biden’s frequent slip of the tongue and lapses in memory (such as forgetting the name of Australia’s prime minister), in this case, the issue was not with an improperly used word, but rather with the logic of the whole statement. Secondly, if this was a mistake, there would be a follow-up call from Biden to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy with explanations and assurances of their eternal friendship. However, as of Jan. 24, the U.S. president has not called his Ukrainian counterpart.
A Back-Stabbing Man
It is possible that Biden did not call Zelenskyy because there was no slip of the tongue or mistake. Biden specifically said what he said to lure Moscow into a trap.
The U.S. knows perfectly well that Russian society is tired of Ukrainian provocations and that many Russians demand stronger action in Donbass, and above all, the protection of the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic from Ukrainian gunfire. In addition, the Americans want to provoke Russia to take aggressive action against Kyiv. Just like former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson did almost 70 years ago by taking Korea out of the U.S. defense parameter in East Asia and partially provoking the Korean War, the U.S. wants to provoke Russia in order to then consolidate the entire Western world against Russia and impose those hellish sanctions.
This version makes sense and sits well with various supporters of the conspiracy theory. But it completely contradicts the course set by Biden at the start of his presidency. Biden is attempting to redirect U.S. resources from Russia to China, and as such is trying to achieve some kind of modus vivendi with Moscow — on American terms, of course. However, these terms certainly do not propose the start of a war in Ukraine, which would require the U.S. to make tough decisions that Washington is not ready for. After all, when American officials and politicians speak about the prospect of hellish sanctions against Russia, they are truly confident that there will be no need to impose them, and that after the crisis has been de-escalated, they will capitalize on the turn of events and claim that the powerful United States made the Kremlin listen to it.
A Smart Man
This is precisely why there is another, more logical version. Biden said what he said not to lure Moscow into a trap, but not to let Zelenskyy lure both Moscow and Washington into a trap.
The fact is that Ukraine is extremely dissatisfied with the ongoing Russian-American negotiations. Kyiv understands that any deal between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Biden will lead to a deescalation in Russian-Western relations, which in turn will require a change of power in Kyiv, since the current Ukrainian elite can only exist in conflict conditions. As such, these negotiations pose an existential threat to the current Ukrainian regime, and Kyiv is extremely interested in disrupting them. The disruption plan is quite obvious — Ukraine will attempt to organize a blitzkrieg in Donbass and in response, Russia will invade the region to protect peaceful civilians and Russian citizens. The world will see this as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — and formally, this will be an invasion, since even Moscow considers the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic as Ukraine’s territories — and then the West will be forced to cancel negotiations and impose full-fledged sanctions.
However, the U.S. fully understands Ukraine’s plans and in turn, sends signals to Kyiv, letting them know this game is not worth it. First, Biden stated that in the event of Russian invasion, Kyiv should not rely on the help of American soldiers, who will be stationed at the border with NATO and do not intend to save the Ukrainian regime. Now, Biden is letting Kyiv know that it will not be able to trade Donbass, which Ukraine does not even control, for anti-Russian sanctions and a total aggravation of Moscow-Washington relations, and that if Ukraine provokes a Russian invasion, there will be no pat on the back.
It is not surprising that Zelenskyy was very dissatisfied with this message. “We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor invasions or minor nations. Just like there are no minor victims or minor grief for the loss of loved ones. I say this as the president of a great power,” stated the Ukrainian president. The problem is that only Zelenskyy thinks of Ukraine as a great power. Russia and the West only see a petty provocateur; it is time to teach him a lesson.