Putin and Biden moved their pieces: how far they can go

US President Joe Biden with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, at the summit in Geneva in 2021. Kevin Lamarque/Reuters. (KEVIN LAMARQUE/)

The Moscow sky lit up as soon as President Joe Biden’s speech ended in which he announced harsh economic sanctions against Russia and specifically against Vladimir Putin and his entourage. They were fireworks. They celebrated the warlike message delivered from the White House as a triumph. In the particular conception of the world that the Kremlin has, the invasion of the separatist territories of Ukraine means a defeat for the United States and the sanctions imposed on it, a reason for mockery and rejoicing.

After the announcements of other economic penalties decreed by the European Union and the United Kingdom, Biden appeared in the main room of the East Wing of the White House to speak with a warrior language, of an unusual hardness in him. He said that a new Russian invasion of Ukraine had already begun and that this military move had no justification. He flatly rejected the vision put forward the day before by Putin, which denies the very existence of a Ukrainian homeland, and assured that his Russian counterpart rewrote history with a meaningless story. “This is a flagrant violation of international law and demands a strong response from the international community,” she said. and he announced the “total blockade” of the two most important financial institutions in Russia. The package detailed later includes a severe limitation on financial transactions with major Russian banks; the restriction of the sale of technologies necessary for Russian industries; the closure of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline; and personal sanctions against Putin and his entourage.

Biden also warned Americans that “We are going to have costs.” He referred to the possibility that the conflict will drive up oil prices. Brent has already reached 100 dollars per barrel, the highest price in the last seven years. He opened his umbrella in the face of the fact that his compatriots they will have to pay more when they refuel their cars. Something that Americans have never forgiven any president.

Biden announced a first battery of harsh sanctions against Russia and, particularly, Vladimir Putin and his entourage.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarques
Biden announced a first battery of harsh sanctions against Russia and, particularly, Vladimir Putin and his entourage. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (KEVIN LAMARQUE/)

Putin had already moved one of his main pieces by ordering the entry of Russian troops into the secessionist enclaves, recognized by him a few hours earlier as independent countries, of the self-styled Luhansk People’s Republic and Donetsk People’s Republic. And as if he needed it, the Duma, the Russian parliament, gave him a blank check to keep moving forward with the troops as far as you consider. Shortly before, she had starred in a choreographed television reality show in which members of her Security Council launched arguments aimed at convincing the Russians that they were being drawn into a conflict imposed by Ukrainian nationalists and manipulated by the US and NATO. “The elaborate and aggravating Putin’s riff on Soviet-Ukrainian history was another effort to persuade Russians that their nation has a legitimate historical claim to Ukraine, a subject that has become something of an obsession for the Russian president.” the New York Times said in an editorial. He was referring to the argument advanced by the Russian that Ukraine was created by Lenin, the founder of the Soviet state, to support the Bolshevik cause. That supposedly shows that Ukraine is somehow not a real state and ignores the fact that most countries were formed after the fall of empires.

In this way, Putin removed entity from a territory that according to his conception it is an “inseparable part” of “Mother Russia”. The Russian president claims all of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, or provinces, as belonging to “people’s republics,” not just the enclaves now controlled by the separatists. This is the argument that can give you free rein to advance with your troops through the rest of the territory of those provinces which until now are in the hands of the Ukrainian army. He would also allow him, in a matter of hours, to take two major Ukrainian cities, the port of Mariupol, on the Sea of ​​Azov, which has 500,000 inhabitants, and the industrial city of Kramatorsk, with 200,000 inhabitants and dozens of electromechanical factories, including Germany‘s Fuhrländer AG.

Mariupol port, Ukraine.
The entrance road to the strategic port of Mariupol, on the coast of the Sea of ​​Azov, Ukraine, which is one of the first targets of the Russian forces. Reuters/File.

The latest moves seem to indicate that this will be Putin’s next move: gain control of the two eastern Ukrainian provinces which have the greatest Russian cultural influence since the dictator Josef Stalin caused a terrible famine that killed millions of people and then he sent Russian Slavs there to take away his identity and any pro-independence idea. If he succeeds in this task – with the firepower he has accumulated on the border he will be an easy target for his soldiers – he will have managed to plant his flag in a strategic region that is added to the already annexed Crimean peninsula. something that surely it will be highly appreciated by Russian nationalists and those nostalgic for the Soviet Union who support it. They will launch fireworks again in Moscow.

This two-beat movement is what made Biden and the European Union will keep some sanctions up their sleeves to impose them if the Russian troops achieve their new objective. Even the United States had left a small back door open for one last diplomatic round. But Thursday’s planned summit in Geneva between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and veteran Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was canceled because “the Russian invasion has already begun.” There was no optimism either in Moscow or in Washington to achieve a peace agreementbut it might have generated some decent temporary output for all parties.

The advance of a Russian tank in the Ukrainian region of Donetsk taken by pro-Russian separatists.  REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko
The advance of a Russian tank in the Ukrainian region of Donetsk taken by pro-Russian separatists. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko (ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO/)

That all of this is happening in Europe in 2022, almost eight decades after the end of World War II and more than three decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union, it’s amazing. Although it was inevitable that a vast empire like the Soviet Union would not collapse without conflict, and conflict erupted in Central Asia, the Caucasus and Europe – including Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the ensuing separatist war in Luhansk and Donetsk – , the idea of ​​an invasion of a sovereign territory in Europe through a large-scale war was something that did not seem possible. Putin’s complexes made the unthinkable a reality. for years feels personally aggrieved by revelations about his authoritarianism and corruption, as well as the alleged little importance that the West gives it. And he is convinced that the invasion of Ukraine will give you greater internal and external power.

Given this psychological analysis carried out by US intelligence agencies, it is Biden tried not to provoke a major reaction from Putin with extreme sanctions or even military intervention as the Republican opposition hawks in Congress are asking. The cataclysm that would occur in Ukraine and Europe in the event of a total invasion justifies any last-minute diplomatic move. Even when the roar of the cannons is drowning out the sweet song of peace, as is happening right now.