Putin: Biden testing how much he can increase pressure on Russian leader

America’s stance of providing a third country with this level of assistance to hurt rival nuclear superpower the United States would have been unthinkable before the invasion, especially given Biden’s desire to avoid a direct confrontation. with Moscow.

The role of the United States – at the forefront of a broad Western front against Putin, which results in heavy losses for the Russian army – again raises questions about how far the strongman of the Kremlin can be pushed before it reacts.

This reality means that Biden is under enormous pressure to calculate how far to go in Ukraine without crossing red lines that Putin neither identified, nor perhaps even drew in his mind, to avoid a disastrous slide into war.

A sobering warning from the CIA director

This shadow game between Washington and Moscow takes place against the backdrop of fierce fighting in eastern and southern Ukraine. In the latest atrocity, around 60 people died after a Russian plane dropped a bomb on a school in Luhansk where civilians had taken refuge on Saturday afternoon.
This carnage, typical of a pattern of ruthless attacks by Russian forces on civilians, underscored CIA Director Bill Burns’ sobering warning of the dangers of a new phase of the war.

“(Putin) in a state of mind that he doesn’t believe he can afford to lose,” Burns said at a Financial Times event in Washington on Saturday. “I think he’s convinced right now that overtaking again will allow him to progress.”

Burns also said that while the United States so far sees no evidence that Russia is mobilizing lower-yield tactical nuclear weapons for use in Ukraine, the possibility that it may seek to do so cannot be discounted. .

“Given the kind of saber rattle … we’ve heard from Russian leaders, we can’t take these possibilities lightly,” Burns said. “At a time when…the stakes are very high for Putin’s Russia and these risks in this second phase of the conflict are serious and should not be underestimated.”

This reality makes Monday’s Victory Day parade, celebrating the victory over Nazism in World War II, particularly symbolic, and Western observers are waiting to parse Putin’s rhetoric for clues as to how the war unfolded in Ukraine. The celebration usually allows Putin to showcase examples of his nuclear-capable missile arsenal – a sight that will have particularly chilling implications this year.

The American balancing act is particularly acute because Putin has made it clear for years that he believes the United States is involved in a long-term effort to overthrow him and stifle Russia, so the rhetorical distinctions made in Washington about what the United States is and is not doing for Ukraine can be lost on the isolated Russian leader inside the Kremlin.

This is what makes last week’s reports on intelligence sharing with Kyiv so significant.

“It’s not just javelins and darts that kill Russians and destroy equipment; intelligence is a weapon too,” former director of national intelligence James Clapper told CNN’s Erin Burnett last week.

The stakes for the United States and the world were underscored when the New York Times, CNN and other media revealed that American intelligence services had contributed to the success of the attacks against the top leaders of the Russian armed forces and the ship admiral of the country, the Moskva, which was sunk in a formidable military vessel. and symbolic blow.

When the reports emerged, senior US officials insisted that the United States was acting in a legitimate and perfectly legal manner and that it was up to the Ukrainians to know how to incorporate valuable battlefield information into their strategy of war.

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“We’re providing them with intelligence, so they can defend themselves against Russian aggression and also put them in a position where they’re stronger at the negotiating table against the Russians,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US ambassador. in the USA. United Nations, CNN’s Jake Tapper told “State of the Union” on Sunday.

“How they use this intelligence is up to them. But what we want to make sure is that they have the equipment, the information and the means to fight this war in a way that helps them. to defend their own sovereignty.”

US rejects Russia’s proxy war charges

The United States argues that it is not engaging in a proxy war with Russia, but is actually helping Ukraine defend itself – a step that would not have been necessary without the invasion unprovoked Russian.

The unknown question is how Putin deals with such characterizations of the American role and whether he could lash out — especially given the dire state of the war following fierce Ukrainian resistance using Western weapons and ammunition.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has, for example, previously accused the United States of waging a proxy war in Ukraine and warned that the risks of a global war are now “considerable” as a result.

Individual decisions about how the United States helps Ukraine sometimes seem confusing or illogical from the outside. For example, earlier in the war, the White House vetoed a plan by Poland to send Soviet-era jet planes into the country to avoid upsetting Putin too much. And the New York Times reported that the United States did not provide information to Ukrainians about the whereabouts of the highest ranking Russian generals in the country. This latest ban may be designed to protect Americans from retaliatory attacks, at a time when more US officials and lawmakers are visiting war-torn kyiv. First Lady Jill Biden paid an unannounced visit to southwestern Ukraine on Sunday.

White House toeing a fine line with intelligence sharing in Ukraine

While the US insistence that it did not offer targeted intelligence on Ukraine may be an attempt to avoid the risks of a flare-up with Russia, it is a rhetorical construct that may not mean much in practice.

“The intent may not have been specifically to share intelligence with the Ukrainians so they could kill Russian generals,” Clapper told Burnett on Thursday. “But if you share intelligence that gives the Ukrainians situational awareness, if you help identify or reinforce, for example, where a headquarters is, the Russian headquarters, well, that’s where gravitate. usually the generals, it’s at headquarters.”

Yet Kurt Volker, a former US ambassador to NATO, dismissed the idea that the US was waging a proxy war with Russia in Ukraine.

“We are in a position to help Ukraine defend against a direct Russian attack on Ukraine. This is not about two superpowers sitting somewhere and sending their minions out and going to war on against each other,” Volker said on CNN’s “Smerconish.” the Saturday.

“It’s Russia directly involved in the attempt to exterminate Ukraine, calling them Nazis. And the Ukrainians are fighting back and getting a lot of support from the rest of the world,” Volker said.

Biden vows to increase pressure on Putin

It may suit Russia that the world sees the war as massive competition with the West rather than more limited engagement with the former Soviet republic on its border. While Putin’s crackdown on independent media means many Russians don’t get a true picture of their military’s abject performance, there is propaganda value in the sense that the struggle, and subsequent overthrows, rather situate them in the context of a broader war against the West. of less power.

But so far, Putin has not taken a fateful step to widen the conflict, in part because of the West’s deterrent capabilities. From publicly available sources, there appears to be no evidence of large-scale cyberattacks against US facilities that the administration feared. Russia has not, so far, sought to stop the flow of arms to Ukraine via foreign countries – a move that could trigger a direct confrontation if it occurs on NATO territory.

But the possibility that such clashes may occur, by Russian design or miscalculation, will remain as long as the war continues. Nor is there any sign that the West is diminishing its commitment. In fact, it’s the reverse.

“Today I spoke with the G7 leaders and President (Volodymyr) Zelensky about our ironclad unity and our commitment to continue to strengthen Ukraine and make Putin’s pain worse,” wrote Biden on Twitter Sunday after a global video call.

Biden’s comment was notable because it gave the impression that the West, after imposing some of the most punitive economic sanctions on Russia in history, is still trying to turn up the heat on Putin. The United States on Sunday announced a new round of sanctions cutting off Kremlin-controlled media from American advertisers and banning the country from using management and accounting consulting services provided by the United States.

There is no significant diplomatic push to end the West’s war. This vacuum is apparently born of the feeling in Washington and some European capitals that Ukraine – thanks to its heroic resistance and the flow of Western weapons – is somehow winning the conflict. And Putin is showing all the signs of hard work, no matter the cost.

But the broader geopolitical risks that accompany this reality will only grow along with Western pressure.

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