Homejoe BidenBiden's Activities Today Are Shaped by Russia's Aggression in Ukraine in 2014...

Biden’s Activities Today Are Shaped by Russia’s Aggression in Ukraine in 2014 and 2015 | Latest News!

Former diplomats and defense officials who visited the US Naval Observatory in early 2015 were looking for a sympathetic ear, and Vice President Joe Biden provided it. The previous year, Russia had annexed Crimea from Ukraine and fostered a brutal separatist movement in the country’s east, prompting officials to ask President Barack Obama to deliver Ukraine’s powerful anti-tank missiles known as Javelins.

They claimed that not only would this assist in repelling the Russian-armed separatists, but it would also serve as a significant statement of America’s willingness to stand behind a former Soviet republic that was rapidly drifting toward the West.

Jan Lodal, a former senior Pentagon official who helped plan the meeting, remembered, “He replied, ‘Okay, I’ll go down the hall’ — meaning to the Oval Office — and make the case.” “You’ve got to remember my first name: it’s ‘Vice,'” Biden continued with a smirk, according to Lodal. V-I-C-E is spelled backward. I’m the government’s highest-paid staff officer.”

Obama, predictably, turned down the request, concerned that arming Ukraine with deadly aid would exacerbate relations with Russia.

Now, as president, Biden is finally accomplishing what he was unable to do previously. Since taking office, he has provided Ukraine with more than $2 billion in security support, including small guns, body armor, and other munitions, including, of course, Javelins.

According to current and former Obama officials, Biden’s involvement as chief Ukraine envoy during Russia’s audacious invasion of Crimea and fomenting of war in eastern Ukraine — for which Moscow faced few substantial consequences — informs his handling of the current issue in Ukraine. Following Obama’s appointment as Ukraine’s ambassador, Biden visited the Eastern European country six times, including three times in 2014.

Biden was one of several Obama administration officials who unsuccessfully lobbied for the deployment of Javelin missiles to Ukraine. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Victoria Nuland, undersecretary of state for political affairs, are now among President Biden’s closest advisers.

Biden's Activities Today Are Shaped by Russia's Aggression in Ukraine in 2014 and 2015 (1)
Biden’s Activities Today Are Shaped by Russia’s Aggression in Ukraine in 2014 and 2015 | Latest News!

According to Nuland, Biden sees a “fragile, plucky, still somewhat dirty democracy rising against the enormous, thuggish authoritarianism” in Ukraine as a result of his experience as vice president.

Following Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s emotional appeal to Congress, Biden pledged $800 million in new help to Ukraine, which he said would include “cutting-edge technology” like drones, as well as 2,000 Javelins, on top of the approximately 2,600 the US had already delivered.

In some respects, Biden’s handling of the Ukraine crisis reminds me of how he handled the Afghan situation earlier in his presidency. Biden was a strong supporter of withdrawing US troops from the so-called “forever war” as vice president, but he was overruled by Obama and his team. Biden then ran for president on a platform of bringing those troops home, which he accomplished in his first year in office.

The exit from Afghanistan was chaotic and contentious, and it is likely to have harmed Biden’s electoral prospects. But Biden’s advisers argued it was something he had wanted to do for a decade and that no one could stop him.

Biden’s effectiveness in engaging with Ukrainian officials, according to Nuland, was due to his understanding that “these politicians have to make very, very tough internal decisions, that they have to stand up to entrenched interests — that they need backing, regular phone calls, and visits.” And he was willing to do it all, and he did it enthusiastically.”

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Biden’s Activities Today Are Shaped by Russia’s Aggression in Ukraine in 2014 and 2015 | Latest News!

Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, whose inauguration he attended in June 2014 and with whom he had at least 50 phone calls and meetings, was exceptionally close to Biden. Biden has been dubbed “the Ukrainian government whisperer” by a senior administration official who also served under Obama.

That period also saw blunders, if not by the vice president, then by his son.

Hunter Biden joined the board of directors of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy business, when his father was Obama’s point man on Ukraine, prompting conflict-of-interest charges and Republican attacks.

Biden’s policy positions, on the other hand, were crystal obvious. When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and sparked a terrible battle in the country’s east, Biden, a veteran of foreign policy, pushed for a tough reaction, against Obama’s more cautious instincts.

“Biden believed that if one does not respond forcefully and allows the flames of Russian imperialism to be fanned, it will be very difficult to extinguish them, and these imperial views will reappear in the future,” said Michael Carpenter, who was the National Security Council’s director for Russia at the time. “As a result, Vice President Biden was a strong supporter of sticking with Ukraine and assisting it in every way we could.”

Biden “was on the more robust end of alternatives in terms of giving weaponry,” according to Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser.

Biden also advocated for the US to assist in the training of the Ukrainian national guard, an effort that was later expanded when US trainers were moved to western Ukraine to help the Ukrainian military boost its capabilities.

Biden's Activities Today Are Shaped by Russia's Aggression in Ukraine in 2014 and 2015 (3)
Biden’s Activities Today Are Shaped by Russia’s Aggression in Ukraine in 2014 and 2015 | Latest News!

“They had terrible equipment — or a lack thereof — and their training was based on Soviet approaches from decades ago,” said Carpenter, who is now the United States ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. “And that mission was critical in assisting them in bolstering their capabilities.”

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The Ukrainians’ training is arguably paying off today, as they have blocked the Russian military’s much larger and better-equipped advances on major cities, tying up convoys, and preventing the Russians from obtaining air supremacy.

Experts argue that if Russian President Vladimir Putin perceived Crimea as a test run, the West saw it as an early warning and bolstered Ukraine to a degree that Putin appears to have overlooked. They say that Ukraine’s military has changed significantly more than Russia’s since 2014.

“When you compare and contrast the combat proficiency of Ukrainian forces and Russian forces, you see Russian forces that are not adapting to a dynamic environment,” a senior defense official said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic. “You see forces in which the lowest levels are denied the ability to think for themselves and make judgments.” And if you look at the Ukrainians, you can see their dynamism and their capacity to make decisions on their own.”

In addition, the world was caught off guard in 2014 when Russia pushed covertly into Ukrainian territory before other countries could react, annexing Crimea in March. Pro-Russian gunmen assaulted government buildings in eastern Ukrainian cities in April, igniting a long-running conflict in the Donbas area, which Moscow backed with weapons, manpower, and money.

The Obama administration wanted to punish Putin for his aggression, but after a lengthy internal discussion that lasted into 2015, no lethal weapons were supplied. The downing of a commercial jetliner by a Russian-supplied missile over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, which killed all 298 people on board, the majority of whom were Dutch, galvanized Europe to join the US in imposing sanctions on Russia’s energy and banking sectors, which was an unprecedented move at the time. In retrospect, policymakers believe they could have been stronger.

Biden and his colleagues are resolved to retaliate even more forcefully this time.

“There’s a sense that it took much too long in 2014 to rally the world to Ukraine’s defense and to open the eyes of our partners, friends — really, the globe — to Russian aggression,” Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Europe and Eurasia, said. “The concentration on the quickness of response, and the groundwork that we’ve prepared leading up to the invasion with partners, is very significant this time,” she said.

However, not everyone believes Biden is getting the response right. Although Biden’s response to Russia’s provocations “is significantly better than any prior administration’s,” according to John Herbst, a former US ambassador to Ukraine, “it has generally been marked by an overly cautious approach.” He observed that the administration has “finally decided to deliver high-altitude antiaircraft systems and short-range drones,” but that “anti-ship missiles and more advanced drones” have yet to be provided.

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Biden’s Activities Today Are Shaped by Russia’s Aggression in Ukraine in 2014 and 2015 | Latest News!

Some Republicans worry that Biden didn’t learn the lessons of Ukraine’s 2014-2015 conflict well enough and that he’s too hesitant to send Ukraine technology that could lead to a direct US-Russian conflict. The administration has made a point of distinguishing between “defensive” and “offensive” weapons for Ukraine, a distinction that its critics deny.

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On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said, “It feels like a significant part of the administration’s audience is internal lawyers, and they make these ‘offensive’ and ‘defensive’ legal hairsplitting arguments.” “At the end of the day, every weapon system we ship to Ukraine is a defensive weapon system, since they are the ones who are being invaded.” Ukraine has nothing to do with it. In Ukraine, there is a struggle for freedom.”

Biden’s backers claim that such judgments — such as not giving the Ukrainians all they asked for — stem from his knowledge of the region. “He was the man who was deputized to talk to the Ukrainians regularly,” Rhodes added. “Part of it was that the Ukrainians genuinely wanted those weapons, and he was kind of articulating that position, not in a terrible way, but like, ‘Hey, I’m talking to these guys, and this is what they truly want,'” says the author.

Biden is certainly testing the boundaries of how far he will go to help the Ukrainians. He and his administration have turned down several of Zelensky’s requests, citing a desire to avoid provoking a nuclear-armed Russia. These include a no-fly zone over Ukraine and assistance with the deployment of Polish MiG fighter fighters to the country.

Biden and White House press secretary Jen Psaki have stated repeatedly that the US will not take any actions that they feel will lead to “World War III.”

During their weekly private lunches as vice presidents, Biden pressed Obama on the issue of arming Ukraine. But he wasn’t the only one in the government who wanted a stronger response.

Evelyn Farkas, Obama’s deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, said civilian Pentagon commanders, including herself, favored sending Javelins to Ukraine, both to send a message and to assist Ukrainians in fighting Russian-backed separatists.

“We recognized they wouldn’t shift the military balance between Russia and Ukraine,” Farkas added, “but it would help discourage.” “We believed we needed to be forceful and demonstrate to the Russians that there were expenses involved.”

Biden's Activities Today Are Shaped by Russia's Aggression in Ukraine in 2014 and 2015 (5)
Biden’s Activities Today Are Shaped by Russia’s Aggression in Ukraine in 2014 and 2015 | Latest News!

Obama was unconvinced. According to a source familiar with Obama’s thinking, the Ukrainian military was struggling with corruption and Russian influence at the time, and Obama believed that training and reform were required before the country could absorb weapons like Javelins, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations.

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According to this source, Obama was particularly concerned about the risk-reward calculation, believing that while the Javelins would not make a military difference, Putin would see them as escalatory and might even be provoked to attack Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. A February 2015 visit to the White House by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who urged Obama not to send the Javelins, was pivotal in Obama’s thinking. As the leader of a country that relies heavily on Russian energy, she remained hopeful, according to the source, that more diplomatic attempts would be fruitful without resorting to escalatory measures.

“The real argument was over deadly assistance, and in the end, the president concluded it would lead us into an escalation game that we couldn’t win,” said Michael McFaul, Obama’s ambassador to Russia.

Whatever the Obama team’s final decision was, Biden was deeply affected by the event. When he came to Ukraine to attend Poroshenko’s inauguration in June of 2014, he seemed particularly moved. Biden led the US team from the Hyatt Regency Kyiv to a magnificent monastery not far away as vice president.

Ukrainians poured into the streets, yelling “USA! USA! USA!” as Biden walked beside Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a Republican who was a close friend of Biden’s.

Carpenter stated, “He just felt happy to be an American able to support Ukraine at that time.”

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