Over the weekend, Biden’s national-security adviser, Jake Sullivan, promised a “catastrophic” response if Putin were to deploy battlefield nuclear weapons in Ukraine. American military officials have no doubt produced many serious options for the United States to consider in such a scenario, including directly entering the war on Ukraine’s side—just the Third World War scenario that Biden has been so determined to avoid.
Watching all of this, it’s hard not to think of how often over the past two decades the West has collectively failed to get Putin right—or to get him at all. Over the summer, the Aspen Strategy Group asked me to give a presentation about Russia at war, and what stood out to me in my research was the number of times, and variety of ways, in which the U.S. and its allies had missed the mark in understanding Putin at critical junctures in his long tenure as Russia’s modern tsar.
Again and again, Putin has profited from the application of military force to achieve otherwise unattainable political gains. He came to power by promoting war in the separatist Russian province of Chechnya. He sent Russian troops to Georgia and Syria and, in 2014, to Ukraine. Each time, there were endless rounds of speculation in Western capitals about how to create an “exit ramp” that would finally entice Putin to end his incursion. Putin just kept barrelling down the highway.
So, yes, I’m skeptical when I hear the latest round of “exit ramp” talk. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching Putin all of this time, it’s that he is not one to walk away from a fight or back down while losing—escalation is his game, and by now he is very, very practiced at it. [Continue reading…]
The US is imposing what it describes as “swift and severe costs” on Russia, including sanctions on a figure the Biden administration says is key to Russia’s economy, after President Vladimir Putin announced the annexation of regions of Ukraine following what the West casts as “sham referenda.”
Putin signed documents on Friday to formally begin the process of annexing four regions of Ukraine during a ceremony in the Kremlin, a clear violation of international law amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that began seven months ago.
US officials have been working behind the scenes to coordinate their response with allies over the course of the last several days and deploy it immediately after Putin’s official action, people familiar with the process said. The response marks an escalation and expansion of the most sweeping sanctions regime ever to target a major economy, one that has been steadily ramped up throughout the more than seven months since Russia’s invasion.
The US, a Biden administration official said, is “targeting additional Russian government officials and leaders, their family members, Russian and Belarusian military officials, and defense procurement networks, including international suppliers supporting Russia’s military-industrial complex” through announcements from the Departments of Treasury, Commerce, and State. [Continue reading…]