Before Putin relinquishes the pressure on EU nations, he is still likely to insist that American influence from Western Europe is withdrawn.
It is August – Ukrainian Independence Day, and the anniversary, too, of Biden’s disastrous withdrawal from Kabul. Washington is only too aware that these painful images (Afghans clinging to the undercarriage of Hercules planes) are about to be replayed, in the lead-up to the November elections.
Because events in Ukraine are unfolding badly for Washington – as the slow, calibrated steamroller of Russian artillery fire shreds the Ukrainian army. Ukraine has been notably unable to reinforce besieged positions, or to counterattack and to hold re-conquered territory. Ukraine has used HIMARS, artillery and drones to hit some Russian ammunition depots, but these, so far, are isolated incidents, and are more media ‘plays’, than constituting any shift in the strategic balance of the war.
So, let’s change the ‘narrative’: Over the last week, the Washington Post
has been busy curating a new narrative. In gist, the shift is quite simple: U.S. intelligence, in the past, may have got things disastrously wrong, but they ‘nailed’ it this time. They warned of Putin’s plan to invade. They had it down to the Russian militaries’ detailed plans.
First Shift: Team Biden warned Zelensky multiple times, but the man stubbornly refused to listen. As a result, when the invasion blindsided Zelensky, the Ukrainians as a whole were hopelessly unprepared. Message: ‘It’s Zelensky to blame’.
Let’s not go into the egregious omission in this narrative of eight years of NATO preparation for a mega attack on Donbas that was bound to draw a Russian riposte. No need for a crystal ball to figure out ‘that’. Russian military structures had been sitting some 70 kms from the Ukrainian border for months.
Shift Two: Ukraine’s army is ‘turning the corner’, thanks to western weapons. Really? Message: No repeat of the Kabul debacle; of a collapse in Kiev can be tolerated until after the Midterms. Hence, repeat after me: ‘Ukraine is turning the corner’; hold fast, stay the course.
Shift Three (from a Financial Times editorial
): Russia’s economy has proved more resilient than expected, but economic sanctions ‘were never likely to collapse its economy’. Actually, U.S. officials, U.S. and UK intelligence predicted precisely that a Russian financial and institutional collapse, following sanctions, would trigger economic and political turmoil in Moscow of such magnitude that Putin’s grip might be levered off his hold on power, and that a Moscow riven by political and financial crisis would be unable effectively to pursue a war in Donbas – thus Kiev would prevail.
This was ‘the line’ which persuaded the European political class to bet all on sanctions. French Finance Minister, Bruno Le Maire, declared
“an-all out economic and financial war” against Russia, so as to trigger its collapse.
Shift Four (the FT
again): The Europeans did not prepare sufficiently for the consequent energy price rises. They must therefore persevere more in shrinking Russia’s revenue, ‘tweaking further’ the coming oil embargo. Message: The EU must have misunderstood. Sanctions were ‘never likely’ to crash the Russian economy. They too did not prepare people for long term energy price rises; their fault.
Whilst this change of narrative might be understandable from the perspective of the U.S. interest, it comes as a ‘cold shower’ for Europe.