Talks between Russia and the UK initially yielded positive results when it was reported that both sides agreed there should be a ‘peaceful resolution’ regarding Ukraine.
Russia then switched tacks, which former KGB agents tend to do, regarding the UK saying that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was ‘confused’ and calling the politicians involved ‘idiots.’ Why the abstinence from Russia? The problem for the West is twofold.
First, there has been some reluctance from some of the NATO partners to take a more hawkish approach like the United States on the situation. Most notably, Germany, dependent upon energy exports from Russia to keep its people from freezing to death in the winter, has refused to distribute arms to Ukraine. Germany is a key player in the NATO alliance, and any sign of hesitancy would signify an opportunity to the Russians. It is in Putin’s interest to have NATO at odds with itself.
The second issue for NATO is that although President Biden has authorized sending troops to eastern Europe to deter a Russian incursion, the Administration has suffered several international gaffes and has problems at home. Biden’s ‘minor incursion’ speech revealed a President who was unsure of his response and sent a signal that Ukraine is not as strategically important to the interests of the United States as our public proclamations would indicate. In addition, the President’s popularity domestically is at an all-time low not just for Biden’s tenure but for any modern President. Finally, Americans are still not over the Afghanistan debacle and are reluctant for another foreign entanglement in Ukraine.
Putin knows all of this, so he may feel like he has enough leverage to make a move on Ukraine if he feels it serves Russia’s interests. It is clear that unlike years past when Europe fell lockstep with the United States, NATO and its allies recognize Biden’s weakness. They seem to be trying to tackle the problem themselves, and in doing so, create a fractured message. Without a unified front and a clear strategy, Putin’s position grows stronger by the day.