Biden Administration, Joe Biden, Ukraine

Has Biden Lost Ukraine?

The brave people of Ukraine may be far from defeated, but anybody who’s paid close enough attention to the Biden administration’s strategy of deterring Vladimir Putin can tell that the loss of Ukraine was a near certainty from the outset.

Despite sending more than $1 billion in military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and instituting crippling sanctions against Russia, Biden and his national security team telegraphed weakness at every turn since the crisis began. The constant public statements that the United States had no intention of doing anything that could be interpreted by Russia as taking part in the conflict or of escalating the crisis had only one effect: It strengthened Putin’s resolve to go all in on Ukraine.

While there are certainly reasonable concerns about the Russian military’s willingness to use nuclear weapons, deterrence only works when the side you are trying to deter is forced to weigh significant costs in their calculus. One can look at the situation in Ukraine (pre and post-invasion) and reasonably conclude that Putin never felt deterred. America told him over and over again that there is no amount of human suffering in Ukraine that would force the U.S. or its NATO allies to take action against the barbaric Russian army.

Let’s not forget that Biden’s national security team was all for sending Ukraine fighter jets before it was against it. On March 6, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Face The Nation that Poland’s idea to send older MiG fighter jets to Ukraine “gets a green light.” Blinken went on to say that the U.S. was “talking with our Polish friends right now about what we might be able to do to backfill their needs if, in fact, they choose to provide these fighter jets to the Ukrainians.”

That idea suddenly became “untenable” when the Poles suggested they would give the planes to the U.S. to give to the Ukrainians. 

The Real Test Is Coming

While Biden’s decision to “bolster” NATO’s eastern flank was the right thing to do, sending a few thousand troops to Germany, Poland, and Romania was hardly a sufficient deterrent. Now there are reports that China may be open to providing some form of military and economic assistance to Russia in light of the godawful performance of the Russian military.

This would be a massive escalation and would test the nerve of the U.S. and NATO like at no other time in the history of the alliance. Nobody wants World War III. Nobody wants to see nuclear weapons used on the battlefield. But that doesn’t mean we should telegraph to Putin that he can get away with whatever he wants as long as his brutality is not directed at a NATO partner. 

Putin is not crazy. He understands (perhaps now more than ever before) the state of his military vis-a-vis the United States and NATO. Had he been seriously concerned about a NATO intervention, we may not have seen the destruction of Ukraine. Military deterrence requires more than sanctions, it requires credible threats of significant military action.

The time is fast approaching when we will see another major and permanent deployment of U.S. troops to Europe to serve as a deterrent to Russia. Biden has lost Ukraine, but the real test is coming as sanctions take their toll on Russia. Will America and NATO have the courage and resolve to stop a more desperate Vladimir Putin as he sets his sights on other parts of the former Soviet empire?