Can Blinken’s diplomacy with Russia still work?
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A year ago, I bet Secretary of State Anthony Blinken never thought he’d be speaking in Berlin, doing damage control for President Joe Biden with over 100,000 Russian troops surrounding the Ukraine.
“If Moscow chooses the path of further aggression, we will impose rapid and massive costs,” Blinken said in Berlin on Thursday.
TOP U.S. AND RUSSIAN DIPLOMAT HOLD ‘FRANKS’ AND ‘HONEST’ TALKS, EXPECT NO BREAKTHROUGH
After an unsuccessful meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday, Blinken told NBC News they would meet again next week and “see if we can move this forward through diplomacy.”
Exactly. Can diplomacy still get us out of this mess around Ukraine? May be. As Blinken said in Berlin, he would “much prefer a diplomatic solution” with Russia. This soft language will not scare Putin.
But diplomacy can still work, if the Biden team toughens up, combines diplomacy with military force to deter Putin, and forces the president to take aim before he shoots from his mouth.
Blinken’s speech in Berlin was a start. Blinken called out Russia for the “artificial” Ukraine crisis and the “orchestrated” war in Donbass, which has killed 14,000 people so far and displaced 1.5 million. Blinken warned that Russia could shut down the internet in Ukraine, stop heating oil and send in tanks – all things Putin has done in past conflicts with Georgia and Estonia.
Blinken’s best argument was a direct appeal to the Russian people. There’s “no point in going to war with your neighbors,” Blinken said. Blinken added that a Russian-Ukrainian war would be “a violent conflict that will probably go on forever.” This fits with military assessments that the Ukrainian Armed Forces could push Russia back, given time and help. Detachments of US and UK forces are in Ukraine providing training in anti-tank weapons and other military tactics, and NATO has integrated Ukraine into its cyber early warning system.
Blinken is not an inspirational speaker like President John F. Kennedy or President Ronald Reagan, both of whom delivered epic speeches from Berlin. If he was a college professor, you would fall asleep in his class. The Moscow Times describes him as “calm and unflappable”. In Berlin, Blinken started with an Einstein joke that didn’t even elicit a polite laugh.
But I was glad to hear Blinken point out violations of Russia’s Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, which quietly slammed the door on reviving that treaty. And Blinken was 100% right when he said that the Ukraine crisis was really about Russia’s rejection of a “whole, free and peaceful” Europe.
Then it’s high time for the Biden team to start talking about defending Ukraine — not just about punishing Russia after an invasion. Of course, no one wants war. Deterrence is the goal. Speaking frankly about military consequences is part of the recipe for deterrence. Blinken must use words and deeds to get Putin to calculate that the military risk of invasion is just too high.
Oh what I wouldn’t give for a mean Trump tweet right now!
Finally, and this is a tough question, diplomacy will only work if President Biden stops undermining his own secretary of state.
If you flinched from Biden’s remarks, imagine Blinken’s reaction.
Let’s review what happened. Blinken was in Ukraine on January 19 and was heading to Berlin when Biden began spilling tea on NATO discord over “minor incursions” and predicting that Putin would invade Ukraine because, between quotation marks, “he must do something”.
Imagine yourself on an icy government plane flying through Berlin while the White House is going crazy. No matter how good Blinken is, no matter how many foreign capitals he visits, Biden can untangle his secretary of state’s job just by gushing.
Every word from Biden should have been calibrated to deter Putin and bolster Blinken. But no. Biden was cocky and laid back. “Why are you waiting for Putin to make the first move, sir? asked Jacqui Heinrich of Fox News. “What a stupid question,” Biden shot back.
What a nightmare. For Blinken, it’s especially tough, because Blinken is Biden’s man. He worked for Biden as staff director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2002 to 2008, then served as national security adviser to Vice President Biden, from 2009 to 2013. There is a copious photo of Biden and Blinken wearing identical sunglasses from the back of a military helicopter. in Kosovo in 2009.
They are tight, but not coordinated. 24 hours later, instead of relying on Blinken and his Berlin speech, President Biden himself had to read a new statement on January 20. “If assembled Russian units cross the Ukrainian border, it’s an invasion,” Biden said. . This included a cyberattack or “little green men,” the Pentagon’s word for covert Russian forces that could infiltrate, stir up a conflict and throw it back on Ukraine.
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Good words, but Biden just couldn’t leave it alone. On Friday, Biden was agitated again, joking with reporters at an Ohio computer chip factory that he wouldn’t take questions because “you’re going to ask me about Russia.”
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This is not how it was meant to be for Biden’s national security team. Just a year ago, they expected to focus on climate deals, return to the Iran nuclear deal, and of course be very different from Trump in every way.
Now they have to keep us out of a war. But first, they have to pull themselves together.
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