Jacob Heilbrunn

    Biden is ‘convinced’ Putin will invade Ukraine. Is Putin?

    Biden is ‘convinced’ Putin will invade Ukraine. Is Putin?
    (Photo: Getty)
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    The only thing more sombre than President Joe Biden’s tone at his press conference on Friday afternoon was his funereal ensemble of dark suit and even darker tie. Biden made news with his declaration that the Russian president isn’t havering about invading Ukraine, if he ever really was. Instead, he’s made the decision, we were told, to attack Kyiv itself.

    If Biden’s remarks were anything to go by, Putin means business. Stories are circulating that Putin and his camarilla have drawn up extensive kill lists of prominent Ukrainians they intend to terminate in coming weeks. Based on Putin’s proclivity for ridding himself of his perceived foes, it would be imprudent not to give them any credence. Others warn of a new Putin who has shed any lingering inhibitions about a big war of choice. In this scenario, Putin subjugates a recalcitrant Ukraine, treating it in a fashion similar to Syria and bringing to mind the old Tacitean dictum about creating a wasteland and calling it peace.

    Still, Biden didn’t preclude that a modus vivendi could be reached. In fact, Putin could be bluffing, though it’s a pretty convincing bluff if that’s the course he is really following. He doesn’t really need to invade Ukraine. He’s already crippling it. A full blown invasion would be the big reveal, surpassing Hungary in 1956 or Czechoslovakia in 1968. Back then both countries were recognised as belonging to the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence. Ukraine does not. An attack, based on the flimsiest of pretexts, would represent Russian revanchism in its most odious form.

    Biden’s constant calling out of Putin has made it slightly more difficult for the autocrat to waltz in with impunity. But not much seems to deter him these days. He may believe that the Germans are more interested in Geldpolitik than Weltpolitik. He treated French president Emmanuel Macron with bemused contempt. Essentially, the Europeans are onlookers in a drama that is taking place in their own backyard. It’s Biden, and Biden alone, that Putin wants, or wanted, to deal with on Ukraine.

    But Biden hasn’t budged. The ball is in Putin’s court. Once he makes a move into Ukraine, however, he might well discover that he becomes as much a plaything of broader historical forces as his adversaries. Upsetting the geopolitical card table can begin with a flush of enthusiasm and success but rarely ends well. Having watched the insalubrious results of ears of choice, it’s remarkable that he apparently wants to embark on his own one. Good luck with that. Should Putin go all-in, he might be signing the death warrant of his own regime.

    This article first appeared in the Spectator’s world edition.