February 2, 2022


Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the West on Tuesday of deliberately creating a scenario designed to lure it into war and ignoring Russia's security concerns over Ukraine… Russia has massed more than 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border and Western countries say they fear Putin may be planning to invade.” Reuters

“President Joe Biden said Friday night he will move U.S. troops to Eastern Europe and NATO countries ‘in the near term,’ without elaborating on the timing but adding that the number would be ‘not a lot.’ Biden has consistently said he does not plan to send troops into Ukraine, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made clear earlier Friday that U.S. troops on high alert had not yet been deployed to the region.” NBC News

Two weeks ago, “The U.S. State Department [cleared] Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to send U.S.-made missiles and other weapons to Ukraine… The State Department spokesperson said the Biden administration in December approved $200 million in additional defensive security assistance to Ukraine, along with $60 billion in lethal and non-lethal equipment from existing U.S. military stocks.” Reuters

Here’s our recent coverage of Ukraine. The Flip Side

Many on both sides call for targeted sanctions on Russian elites:

“If Americans were truly willing to go after the Russian elites who work below Putin, the United States might have leverage, but this would mean outing the locations of oligarchical wealth, freezing assets in places such as London (which is practically a Russian bank vault these days), and, as my Atlantic colleague David Frum has suggested, perhaps even uprooting children from elite Western schools and sending them home…

“A warning, however, is in order. In the words of Jimmy Malone in The Untouchables, if you’re going to open the ball on these people, you must be prepared to go all the way. An escalation against Russian interests around the world wouldn’t be a polite game of diplomatic and financial tit for tat. If the Western powers intend to pressure the Russian elites to dissuade Putin from war, then they’d better mean it. They must vow that violence in Ukraine will mean sleepless nights not only for Putin but for everyone around him, including the underbosses who do not have Putin’s considerable political and financial resources to protect themselves and who thus will face real costs and personal losses.”
Tom Nichols, The Atlantic

President Biden should make a list of Putin’s top 50 oligarch trustees and immediately sanction five of them. This would show Putin that the U.S. is not bluffing. Second, President Biden should give Putin a deadline of 10 days to retreat from the Ukrainian border or another five oligarchs will be sanctioned. In the event that Putin does invade Ukraine, the U.S. will make it be known that they will sanction the full list of these 50 oligarchs, and then draw up a new list of 50 more…

“When I describe this strategy, most people ask why the U.S. isn’t already doing this? I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that President Biden doesn’t want to do this unilaterally. Unfortunately, in Europe, Putin’s network has spread money far and wide among politicians and opinion leaders, making it almost impossible for Europe to agree to take a tough stance against Russia. I think Biden’s commitment to multilateralism is laudable, but I think this is a situation where the U.S. can accomplish 80 percent of its goals by acting alone, potentially stopping a war before a single shot is fired. Will this work? I believe it will, and I don’t see a lot of downside to trying. Putin won’t like it, but that’s the point. Moreover, it’s infinitely better than any spilled blood.”
Bill Browder, Time

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

Republicans bellyache but offer few, if any, alternatives. Indeed, they can’t even get their story straight: At the same time that many Republicans are accusing Biden of being too weak on Russia, Tucker Carlson and the #MAGA grass roots are accusing him of dragging the United States into a needless war with ‘nuclear-armed Russia.’…

“When it comes to Russia, the main GOP argument seems to be that Biden shouldn’t have suspended sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany. What they ignore is that the pipeline was almost completed despite Trump’s sanctions and that Biden is now preparing a long menu of severe sanctions should Putin attack Ukraine. He is also providing military aid to Ukraine — and not trying to use that aid for domestic political advantage, as Trump did. Most importantly, Biden has achieved a fair degree of unity in NATO in responding to Russia — a welcome contrast from Trump’s attempts to undermine the alliance.”
Max Boot, Washington Post

“The overt threat to Ukraine has rallied the European nations around a common menace, revitalized NATO’s original mission to deter and contain Russian expansion, and thus bonded the European allies to the United States (the prime guarantor of their security) more tightly than any time since the end of the Cold War…

“Whatever Putin winds up doing, his plan of driving the NATO allies apart and reducing the U.S. presence near Russia’s borders failed. In fact, Washington has put 8,500 more troops on high alert for deployment to Poland and Estonia, to shore up the eastern flanks of NATO. Poland and Britain have announced a ‘trilateral security pact’ with Ukraine, and, though no one knows quite what it means, the two countries are in the meantime redoubling their recent arms shipments to Kyiv. Sweden and Finland, Russia’s thoroughly western neighbors, which have stayed militarily neutral for all these decades, are now mulling the prospect of joining NATO.”
Fred Kaplan, Slate

From the Right

“Joe Biden is belatedly learning that the Democratic Party’s much-hyped philosophy of ‘smart power’ amounts to a lot of pretty words and a bad habit of dodging tough choices… ‘Smart power’ amounts to talking a good game about standing up to authoritarians and rogue regimes, and then backing down when push comes to shove… ‘Smart power’ is represented by economic sanctions that rarely apply much pressure to the autocrat calling the shots…

“The abandoned ‘red line’ against Syria’s Bashir Assad is probably the most vivid example, of tough rhetoric being abandoned, but you can see it in the desperation to reach a deal with the mullahs in Iran, the much-touted ‘leverage’ over the Taliban that never seems to manifest, and in our dealings with Russia… [Biden] spent the 2020 campaign promising that he would stand up to Putin and ‘hold the Putin regime accountable for its crimes.’ If Putin takes over more of Ukraine, it will mean that the only president in the past thirteen years who didn’t stand by and watch as Putin invaded neighboring territory was the president that many Democrats insisted was a Russian agent.”
Jim Geraghty, National Review

“There will come a time (and that time was yesterday) when Europe will need to take responsibility for what happens in its own neighborhood. America may be a superpower, but its resources and bandwidth are not unlimited…

“Europe, in other words, will have to step up on European security. And just as importantly, the United States will have to restrain its usual tendencies to be in charge and allow Europe to step up, encouraging strategic autonomy instead of suppressing it. As the US tries to articulate a coherent diplomatic package that would allow all sides, Russia included, to save face and walk away from a confrontation, Washington will need to ask some deeply uncomfortable questions about its broader policy in Europe. If the Biden administration trusts its allies, it should give those allies the opportunity to prove their worth.”
Daniel DePetris, Spectator World

A libertarian's take

“What is concerning is Biden's decision to deploy troops to NATO's eastern flank without consulting Congress. While the president is authorized under the Constitution to direct the U.S. Armed Forces, he can only do so following a congressional declaration of war. Presidents have deployed U.S. troops across the globe without congressional approval countless times since the last official declaration of war, which came during World War II. Lawmakers passed the 1973 War Powers Act in an attempt to restrict such presidential overreach in conflicts, requiring the executive to remove any troops he's deployed after 60 days if Congress doesn't grant an extension. Since 1973, the legislation has done little to restore Congress' rightful war-making powers, and it likely won't limit Biden's Ukraine-adjacent deployment…

“This is a prime opportunity to reconsider U.S. military obligations (perceived or real) to war-prone nations, the tendency to address tensions with soldiers and weapons rather than negotiations and compromise, and America's deep involvement in European security. As with so many other aspects of Ukraine-Russia tensions, American lawmakers ignore the bigger picture at their own peril.”
Fiona Harrigan, Reason

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