Wartime Presidents

On Sunday evening, the White House’s public schedule for Joe Biden suggested he’d be in Washington for most of Monday, before departing late for Warsaw.

Unbeknownst to anyone eying that schedule, Biden was already on a plane. Then, he was on a train. To Ukraine, where he showed up Monday in Kyiv with Volodymyr Zelensky.

Biden’s visit was risky, although Emmanuel Macron, Olaf Scholz, Mario Draghi and Boris Johnson all made the trip last year. Johnson made the trip last month too, in a publicity stunt not arranged by the British embassy (No. 10 said Rishi Sunak is “always supportive of all colleagues showing that the UK is behind Ukraine”).

On the one-year anniversary of the conflict, the White House is keen to offset an expected propaganda blitz from the Kremlin. Biden was planning a speech in Warsaw Tuesday that’d compete for international attention with Vladimir Putin’s planned address. Ukraine, meanwhile, is keen to offset an expected military blitz, with the help of Western arms.

Kyiv continues to press its allies for long-range weapons and fighter jets or, more to the point, Zelensky wants to actually win the war, not just defend Ukraine. Macron on Sunday warned that “crushing” Russia would be dangerous. “I want Russia to be defeated in Ukraine, and I want Ukraine to be able to defend its position,” he told Le Journal du Dimanche, as the Munich Security Conference wound to a close. “I do not think, as some people do, that we must aim for a total defeat of Russia, attacking Russia on its own soil.”

Macron was erecting a straw man. No one wants to invade Russia. He was tacitly conflating long-range weapons with an actual incursion so his position sounded less contentious. Macron went on: “[It] has never been the position of France that Russia should be crushed and it never will be.”

It wasn’t the first time Macron adopted a softer line towards Moscow. Last year, he took criticism from Kyiv after insisting the West not try to “humiliate” Putin. Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, told Macron that Putin was “humiliating himself.”

Biden’s Monday visit came as at least a few members of the Republican far-right in the US voice opposition to ongoing financial aid to Kyiv. The administration has dismissed those voices as outliers. “There are a small number of members on Capitol Hill — House Republicans specifically — that have expressed publicly their concerns about support for Ukraine,” John Kirby said last week. “You certainly aren’t going to hear it on the Democratic side and you don’t hear it in the Senate,” he added. Although Zelensky’s historic address to a joint session of Congress in December garnered bipartisan accolades, some House Republicans derided the speech.

“As the world prepares to mark the one-year anniversary of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, I am in Kyiv today to meet with President Zelensky and reaffirm our unwavering and unflagging commitment to Ukraine’s democracy, sovereignty, and territorial integrity,” a Monday statement from the White House read. “I will announce another delivery of critical equipment, including artillery ammunition, anti-armor systems and air surveillance radars to help protect the Ukrainian people from aerial bombardments.”

There’s palpable concern that the West is depleting its own military stockpiles to dangerously low levels in an effort to bolster Ukraine’s defenses. Scaling up industrial capacity to meet the moment (and any moment that could come in 2025, when at least one US general fears the US could be at war with China), would’ve been easier half a century ago, when America still had a manufacturing base that could be put on a war footing. In the 2020s, by contrast, America’s most valuable firms make their money on software, search engines, social media platforms (which are littered with Kremlin propaganda) and luxury consumer electronics (which are partially made in China).

Biden on Monday also confirmed reports that the US is preparing new sanctions and export controls targeting the Russian defense and energy sectors, as well as fresh measures against the country’s financial institutions.

Air raid sirens — apparently triggered by a Russian fighter jet in neighboring Belarus — blared in the streets as Biden and Zelensky walked to a memorial honoring the dead. “Kyiv has captured a part of my heart,” Biden said, during a joint news conference. “[Putin] thought he could outlast us. I don’t think he is thinking that now.”

Over the weekend, at the Munich gathering, Kamala Harris accused+ Moscow of committing crimes against humanity and said the US would hold everyone — all the way up the Russian ranks — to account.

In all likelihood, the Kremlin will make last minute changes to Putin’s state of the nation address to account for Biden’s Kyiv visit. RIA Novosti attempted to use the trip to bolster the Kremlin’s claims that Putin isn’t actually at war with Ukraine. “We’re [certainly] not at war with the Ukrainian people,” Moscow’s state media apparatus said, citing an “analyst” and adding that “the Kyiv authorities embody an instrument of the collective West.” I doubt seriously that the besieged Ukrainian populace would agree with the contention that Russia isn’t at war with them.

Writing to nearly a quarter million social media followers on Monday, Sergei Mardan called Biden’s walk through Kyiv a “demonstrative humiliation for Russia.”


Speak your mind

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

2 thoughts on “Wartime Presidents

  1. I understand Macron’s position and caution but the longer this goes on the less likely it can end without completely crushing Russia. I still hope there is enough sense within the powers around Putin to seize an opportunity if one presents itself, end Putin before a full scale war ends us all.

NEWSROOM crewneck & prints