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It’s Tough to Deter Putin Once You’ve Given Him the Pipeline He Wanted

U.S. President Joe Biden and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they arrive for the U.S.-Russia summit at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021. (Sputnik/Sergey Bobylev/Reuters)

God only knows if this unidentified U.S. intelligence official speaking to Sky News is correct…

Russia is planning a military offensive against Ukraine, which could begin as soon as early 2022, according to United States intelligence officials.

The finding estimates that Moscow is planning to use 175,000 troops and almost half of them are already deployed along various points near Ukraine’s border, according to an anonymous official in Joe Biden’s administration.

The official added that plans call for the movement of 100 battalion tactical groups along with armour, artillery and equipment.

… but if Russia does make a surprise attack on Ukraine early next year, it will rank among the least surprising surprise attacks in recent history.

Yesterday, President Biden told reporters:

I have been in constant contact with our allies in Europe, with Ukrainians.  My Secretary of State and National Security Advisor have been engaged extensively.

And what I am doing is putting together what I believe to be will be the most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for Mr. Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he may do.

But that’s in play right now.

We will see whether those “comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives”  really do make “make it very, very difficult for Mr. Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he may do.”

As John E. Herbst, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, observed over at the Atlantic Council:

The issue in question is Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline project from Russia to Germany that stretches under the Baltic and North Seas. If made operational, this pipeline would enable the Kremlin to use gas for political purposes by withholding it from countries in east Europe that pursue policies it does not like, and make it easier for Moscow to expand its current war of aggression in Ukraine.

As a gesture to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a gift to Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Joe Biden waived Congressional sanctions on Nordstream AG and its chairman last May that would have stopped the project in its tracks; in exchange for this enormous concession, the administration received only a vague commitment from Germany to take action against Russia if it used gas for political purposes. Inevitably, Moscow began to do just that this summer — without a contrary word from Berlin, and not much more from Washington.

The administration’s decision was not popular in Congress, as both Democrats and Republicans have long understood that Kremlin energy (and other) policies pose a major threat to US interests in Europe and especially in Ukraine. As a result, the House of Representatives added an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would sanction Nord Stream 2 without presidential waiver authority, which would have made the sanctions bullet-proof. For the administration, this placed a premium on killing the amendment in the Senate, and Secretary Blinken spent lots of time last week lobbying Senate Democrats to do just that.

For some Democrats this poses a dilemma as they recognize that the administration’s Nord Stream 2 waiver was a disaster, and not easy to defend publicly,

Joe Biden wants to send a clear message of deterrence to Putin . . . but he also doesn’t want to have a big fight with Germany over the pipeline. To govern is to choose.

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