Biden rallies the western alliance and gives Zelensky an ‘iron fist’ against Putin | CNN Politics



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The more Russian President Vladimir Putin tries to break up NATO, the stronger he becomes.

It is not the first time in the Ukraine war that President Joe Biden took decisive action that closed the cracks in the alliance. He announced on Wednesday that he would send 31 advanced US tanks to the Kyiv armed forces in a move that led a reluctant Germany to abandon its resistance to sending its own tanks and could unlock similar moves across Europe.

This represented an important symbolic, political and military victory for Ukraine. He hopes what he calls his new “iron fist” will break through entrenched Russian lines in the east, be able to fuel a Russian land bridge advance into annexed Crimea in the south and prevent a feared Russian spring offensive.

It took Biden’s political savvy to end the most public and damaging Western breakout of the war yet. The United States had previously said that its Abrams tanks were too complex and high-maintenance for the Ukrainian war and that they were unsuited to the terrain. But Biden’s turnaround, which gives cover to Germany, underscores Washington’s view that Western unity against Putin is critical to saving Ukraine.

In fact, Putin’s main goal off the battlefield is to drive divisions among the Western allies and disrupt or end the flow of arms on which Ukraine’s survival as an independent nation depends.

Its failure, despite fierce Russian public threats designed to intimidate European nations into resisting tank transfers, also comes after a mild winter robbed Russia of another strand of its strategy: depriving the Europeans of gas imports during the freezing weather in the hope that they would put pressure on their own. leaders to stop supporting Ukraine.

“Putin expected Europe and the United States to weaken our resolve,” Biden said at the White House on Wednesday. “He expected our support for Ukraine to collapse over time. He was wrong… and he was wrong from the beginning and he continues to be wrong. We are united.”

As the first anniversary of the unprovoked Russian invasion approaches, Biden and the West find themselves in an extraordinary position that few strategists would have thought possible a year ago.

— NATO is stronger and more unified than it has been for years. And that is a strategic disaster for Russia. The sense of drift in the alliance at the turn of the 21st century has been dispelled by a reminder of the bloc’s founding purpose: a common defense against aggression from Moscow. Putin’s behavior will ensure that alliance-building lesson lives on for decades.

— Biden has pinned his legacy on a major ground war in Europe in which the United States has engaged in an effective proxy battle with its nuclear rival Russia. This fight, which is, in a way, the last battle of the Cold War, is a test of will between an American president and a Kremlin strongman deeply influenced by the US-Soviet confrontation. Biden is leading the most important foreign policy undertaking since at least the 2003 invasion of Iraq. His success is critical to America’s credibility and his own. The magnitude of the mission is likely to dwarf much of the rest of his tenure, including the current investigation into misplaced classified documents, in world history.

— Biden has restored the US as a strong global leader, reviving his critical transatlantic alliance and guiding the allies behind the effort with intense and successful diplomacy. And so far, the president’s balancing act between funneling increasingly powerful weaponry into Ukraine and avoiding an escalation with Putin that could lead to a showdown with the West or even Moscow’s use of a smaller-scale tactical nuclear weapon. , it keeps. A second year of war in Ukraine and deepening NATO involvement will test that equation like never before.

— The most remarkable aspect of the evolution of the relationship between the West and Ukraine is that one of Putin’s supposed motivations for the war was to avoid the possibility that the former Soviet state could join NATO, which would be an even greater humiliation for Moscow than accession. of nations once in Warsaw Pact territory such as Poland, Romania and Slovakia. But now, Ukraine’s war effort is being armed and financed by the West, almost as if it were a de facto NATO state with access to some of the alliance’s most sophisticated weapons systems.

The West’s justification for that support is also evolving. Once the main objective was to allow a defenseless nation to repel an unprovoked invasion so that its people would be free to choose their political system and their sovereignty. Now the alliance leaders appear to see Ukraine as a vital strategic stronghold.

“If President Putin wins, it’s a tragedy for Ukrainians, dangerous for us as well,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told CNN’s Kate Bolduan on Wednesday, arguing that an authoritarian nation cannot be allowed to exercise their will and benefit from threats. “It is our security interest to support the Ukrainians,” she said.

Just because he keeps failing, Putin is unlikely to stop trying to split the Western alliance. Hostility towards the United States and its allies and the search for revenge have been the basis of his more than two decades in power. And strangling Ukraine’s arms supply and stoking Western war fatigue remain crucial to its hopes of achieving victory or avoiding decisive defeat.

Moscow reacted furiously to the tank decision, calling it extremely dangerous and adding that it took an already bloody conflict to a new level.

Biden, who is still seeking to avoid any escalation that could lead to a direct confrontation between NATO and Russian forces, stressed that the new tanks do not pose an offensive threat to Russia, if only Putin were to withdraw his troops from Ukraine. Critics of the war and the massive flow of Western weapons will be increasingly concerned that the West may end up simply fueling a bloody stalemate that results in the senseless killing of thousands of Ukrainian and Russian soldiers and Ukrainian civilians. Since both Moscow and Kyiv seem to believe they can still win the war, there is hardly any chance for a diplomatic push for a ceasefire or peace.

However, Western military strategists warn that Moscow, after an already bloody attack, is preparing a new offensive for the spring.

“It is dangerous to underestimate Russia,” Stoltenberg said in a speech in Oslo on Wednesday, noting that Moscow had mobilized an additional 200,000 troops and was willing to take great risks and endure staggering losses.

Ukraine will now be under pressure to show that it can use these new tanks in properly planned combined military operations that maximize their advantages but minimize their weaknesses for significant battlefield gains. While the German tanks, known as Leopard 2s, could arrive in a few weeks, John Kirby, the National Security Council’s strategic communications coordinator, told CNN it would be “many months” before the Abrams machines, which still must be purchased from USA manufacturers, arrive.

Still, the chain of diplomatic and military fallout triggered by Biden’s willingness to send the tanks sent an important message to Moscow.

“They are more important as a symbol of the commitment of the United States and Europe,” retired General Wesley Clark, former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO in Europe, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

Ukraine had ordered at least 300 tanks. While it’s unclear how many he’ll receive in new Allied shipments, the total could be closer to 100. He certainly hopes that once opened, the spigot of new weaponry will keep flowing. That is what has consistently happened in the war.

At the time of the invasion last February, the US and its allies were wary of even supplying basic weapons. But as the brutal war unfolded and Ukraine inspired the world with its resistance, the barriers to further kinetic aid crumbled. Kyiv is now receiving weapons, ammunition, drones, Javelin anti-tank missiles, armored vehicles, Patriot anti-missile missiles and now some of the most sophisticated tanks from the US and allied armies.

In Washington just before Christmas, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that his country’s needs were so great that it would never stop calling for more weapons.

Until now, the provision of fighter jets, his administration’s most cherished request, has been a red line that Biden is unwilling to cross. He is also one who previously caused divisions in the alliance.

But the pattern of this war is that what Ukraine asks for, it eventually gets, even if the scale of its requests for specific equipment is not always met.

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