Key Point: The Russian leader made a catastrophic mistake in overvaluing his own strength and underestimating the resolve of Biden and his team.
- The first instruction that Secretary of State Antony Blinken got from President Biden was to “reset” America’s alliances and partnerships abroad so that the United States could deal with the challenges ahead. That strategy would prove decisive in combating Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
- The Biden administration’s secret planning began in April 2021 when Russia massed about 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border. The buildup turned out to be a feint, but Blinken and other officials discussed U.S. intelligence about Russia’s actions with leaders of Britain, France and Germany at a NATO meeting in Brussels that month. Their message was, “We need to get ourselves prepared,” a senior State Department official said.
- By avoiding a crisis with Germany early on, Blinken said, “the net result was that the foundation was in place when the Russians went ahead with the aggression.”
- This U.S. diplomacy gets high marks from Emily Haber, the German ambassador to Washington. “The wording in the joint statement [about Nord Stream] was vague, but the administration trusted the old — and later the new — chancellor to follow up on it. Which is what happened,” she told me. “A sublime form, I thought, of partnership management.”
- Through the buildup to war, Biden sometimes seemed to misspeak. But he had a clear-eyed view of the evolving strategic terrain. Early on, for example, Biden concluded that the best way to derail Putin’s hope for dividing NATO would be the accession of two strong new members, Finland and Sweden.
- The Biden administration’s organization of this coalition to support Ukraine may look simple in retrospect. But it was a complicated coordination of diplomatic, military and intelligence resources that pulled together dozens of nations at what may prove to be a hinge point in modern history. Putin thought he could roll through Biden and the West to an easy victory in Kyiv. The Russian leader made a catastrophic mistake in overvaluing his own strength and underestimating the resolve of Biden and his team.