The Great Gaff?
Unlike the realists in Washington however, Europe is all agog with “Zelensky Unleashed.” While Europeans are trying to find a solution that fits the high ambition of #Ukraine's leaders, they dissociate themselves totally from reality.
“For God’s sake, this man [Putin] cannot remain in power”. It could not have been plainer: Biden’s call for regime change in Russia wasn’t some off-the-cuff ‘gaffe’. It was deliberate. It was declared as the climax of a carefully choreographed, legacy-defining speech, in a deliberately chosen venue (Poland) where the call would be well-received. Furthermore, we were briefed for two days beforehand that Biden was expected to make a major statement during his Warsaw stay.
Besides, Biden’s speech contained nothing substantive, aside from his denigrating President Putin. So, if regime change was not the substance of this major statement, then what was it?
The White House attempt to row back was understandable, given the uproar that ensued. Yet the ‘clarification’ was absurd. Officials said that what Biden just declared was not official policy, and an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal dismissively recommended that "The President Should Avoid Public Speaking".
The point then becomes something quite different than whether Biden is gaffe-prone -- which is ‘old news’. The crux rather, is if Biden utters a policy statement so unambiguously and lucidly, and is immediately contradicted by officials saying 'this is not our policy’, who then defines and speaks for US policy? Is there someone higher up the tree?
Of course, the world precisely believes that there is someone or some ‘collective’ Biden higher up the US strategy tree. But who, or which interest, is decisive on this matter? It matters a lot when it comes to Russia. Biden's was not a gaffe, but rather, he blurted out, in an unnuanced way, that Washington would love to get regime change, first in Moscow, (and then in Beijing).
In fact, this aspiration was transparent when ‘the powers that be’ in Washington set the stage for what they hoped would be the ruination of the Rouble, a mass run on Russian banks, an economic crash, and ultimately a political crisis that would culminate in … regime change, of course.
Well, that didn’t work. The rouble dropped, but did not collapse and is now recovering. But then along comes: “The only end game in town now”, a senior administration official was heard to say at a private event earlier this month, “is the end of Putin regime. Until then, all the time Putin stays, [Russia] will be a pariah state that will never be welcomed back into the community of nations. China has made a huge error in thinking Putin will get away with it”.
So Biden was not incorrect in his definition of US aims. The complaint is that fired up with the fervid emotions of liberal war on the ‘barbarians from the East’, Biden blurted it ‘out loud’.
It didn’t shock Russians, of course. It did however, set off frissons in weaker brethren around the world, who awoke to the thought: If they can do that to Russia, what about ME?
So, still, the question hangs: Who in Washington is decisive on Russia: Obama; ‘Madam’ Clinton; State Department Ukraine hawks, the Pentagon realists, or the armaments lobby? For the moment, it may be smart Pentagon realists, who have worked out that Russia is achieving its military objectives in Ukraine, and have concluded that it’s time to shift away from the daily ‘false flag’ dosing of heroic resistance narratives, lest reality suddenly bites and the US public smells another major western débacle.
In Europe, reality certainly has not ‘bitten’. They didn’t like Biden’s blurting out: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power”. Yet it was the French Finance minister who had earlier exulted in “we will bring about the collapse of the Russian economy”, and boasted that the balance of power in the sanctions stand-off between the European Union and Russia is “totally” in favour of the EU, which “is in the process of discovering its economic power”.
Well, that isn’t working out so well either. Rather, as Ambrose Evans-Pritchard notes in the Telegraph, “what is now clear - is that western sanctions policy is the worst of all worlds. We are suffering an energy shock that is further inflating Russia’s war-fighting revenues … There is a pervasive fear of a gilets jaunes uprising across Europe, a suspicion that a fickle public will not tolerate the cost-of-living shock once the horrors of Ukraine lose their novelty on TV screens”.
Unlike the smart realists in Washington however, Europe is all agog with “Zelensky Unleashed”: European analysts are endlessly dissecting the entrails of a series of interviews used by Zelensky to lay out the compromises that “he would be willing accept” from Moscow. On these occasions, Zelensky sternly warns Moscow that it is in their interest to negotiate reasonably now, as the next Ukrainian leader could be younger, and less willing to compromise...
Evidently, Europe is still wholly in the grip of its own emotion-laden war fever. In theory – yes - there can be a negotiated outcome in Ukraine. Moscow has repeated this possibility endlessly. But this can only occur through looking reality ‘in the eye’. Diplomats hate being told this, but ‘facts on the ground’ can make diplomatic negotiation unnecessary. And the facts speak for themselves.
Facts are being established on the ground by Russian forces. If Zelensky wants to impose his conditions, he must have the leverage so to do – otherwise, Moscow can finish its demilitarisation of Ukraine, finish the military operation in Donbas and along the Black Sea coast, and go home (with the warning that any attempt in the future to establish a Ukrainian quagmire would be met with a suitable 'Kinzhal' riposte).