In the last 24 hours the world has been presented with two entirely different messages from the White House concerning both the crisis in Ukraine and the present state of US-Russian relations. The first message came in the form of a naval maneuver yesterday. The US cancelled the planned deployment of two destroyers into the Black Sea as tensions between Russia and Ukraine remain at a dangerous level. An announcement by the Russian defense ministry earlier in the day stating that Russian naval units in the Black Sea will be undertaking a live fire exercise appears to have deterred the US from sending its warships into the region.
The second message came earlier this afternoon when President Biden announced that the US is facing a ‘national emergency’ over certain Russian actions over the past year. Specifically, Russia’s alleged interference in the 2020 US Presidential Election, and cyber hacking, of which there is a very clear record of Russian actions. As a form of retaliation for this activity, the US is imposing financial sanctions on Russia and the expulsion of ten Russian diplomats from the United States. No mention of the Russian military buildup near Ukraine’s borders was mentioned. However, earlier in the day Secretary of State Antony Blinken did speak briefly on the buildup. According to a senior administration official, the US response is intended to be “resolute but proportionate” to Russia’s actions, while emphasizing that the U.S. wanted to avoid an “escalatory relationship.”
So, on one hand, the Biden administration has cancelled a deployment of US warships to the Black Sea region following Russia’s announcement of a live fire exercise in the area. There’s no way to mask the fact this move appears to be a tactical retreat by the US in the face of a Russian threat. It’s safe to assume that Vladimir Putin will be encouraged to move more forcibly on Ukraine both politically and militarily since, in his eyes, the US has shown it will not respond to his provocative actions militarily.
On the other hand, President Biden is talking tough by placing punitive sanctions on Russian financial institutions and taking diplomatic action against Russian diplomats. He has stated his desire to deescalate the tense status of the relationship between the US and Russia, while also warning that the US will take stronger action in the future if the situation calls for it. Again, Putin will likely take this as a sign of indecisiveness and a reluctance by the Biden administration to engage Russia on the Ukraine situation and take a firm stance.
It’s clear that the Biden administration is handling Russia with kid’s gloves right now and is failing the first true foreign policy test of Joe Biden’s term.