By Anders Hagstrom
Russian President Vladimir Putin has played a months-long game of cat-and-mouse with President Joe Biden, and so far, Putin appears to be coming out on top.
Biden’s strategy to halt Putin’s military buildup around Ukraine and a potential invasion has been to publicize a high amount of U.S. intelligence, going so far as to detail how Russia might move forward with an invasion and even provide a date for such an invasion. The date the Biden administration offered — Feb. 16 — was ultimately incorrect.
When pressed on why the date came and went without an invasion, U.S. officials said we remain “in the window” of a potential invasion, arguably leaving Putin in the driver’s seat. Some of Biden’s critics contend that his strategy ignores Putin’s own agency and knowledge that Russian military communications are far from secure. (RELATED: ‘Things Could Go Crazy, Quickly’: Biden Says He ‘Didn’t Have To Tell’ Putin Not To Harm Americans In Ukraine)
“Too much is made of [the question] will Putin go or not,” a NATO official in Brussels, who had been briefed by the U.S., told Vice. “Everyone could see he was willing and ready to go and the Russian army doesn’t have particularly secure comms, so people were listening.”
“Putin has a chance to blame the hysterical West and announce he got what he wanted without taking on new sanctions. And maybe it unnerved him that the Americans released the intelligence on him. Or he didn’t care. But it’s impossible to say right now that the crisis has ended,” the official added.
Putin may have done just that with his move to officially recognize two separatist groups in eastern Ukraine as independent states. Putin then ordered “peacekeeper” troops in the separatist-controlled territories Monday evening.
Former CIA Director John McLaughlin says the move was orchestrated to challenge whether the U.S. and NATO truly have a united definition of what constitutes an “invasion” of Ukraine.
BREAKING: Putin orders Russian troops to Donetsk and Luhansk, eastern Ukraine.
Decrees just published call for Russian “peacekeeping” missions to be sent immediately to the newly recognized territories. At the same time, Russian media full of reports of “Ukrainian attacks.” pic.twitter.com/pPRU3P02VT
— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) February 21, 2022
“Putin has choreographed this with the hope that we and the Europeans will debate whether this is an ‘invasion’ or not. And hoping that throws us enough off balance that he will pay a minimal price for this first slice of salami,” he wrote.
While Germany already took the step of halting the certification of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline Tuesday, Biden himself has yet to release the severe volley of sanctions he threatened in the event of a Russian invasion.
Both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill showered Biden with demands for economic action Tuesday morning, with Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham saying the move “should immediately be met with forceful sanctions to destroy the ruble and crush the Russian oil and gas sector.”
Biden’s fellow Democrats called on Biden to take action as well, with Democratic Delaware Sen. Chris Coons saying the time for sanctions “starts now.”
“To be clear, if any additional Russian troops or proxy forces cross into Donbas, the Biden administration and our European allies must not hesitate in imposing crushing sanctions,” Democratic New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez said in a statement.