Who are you going to believe, Joe Biden or Jen Psaki?
More to the point, who are Russian President Vladimir Putin and his potential victims in Ukraine going to believe?
Judging by the reactions to the U.S. president’s news conference on Wednesday, that isn’t a hard question to answer — and it isn’t Jen Psaki.
Biden has already told the world how little he values American allies with his disgraceful exit from Afghanistan back in August 2021. But he reiterated that message at his news conference Wednesday while answering a question about the threat Russia poses to its neighboring country to the west.
“My guess is he will move in,” Biden said, according to the White House transcript of the news conference. “He has to do something.”
That isn’t comforting in the Ukraine capital of Kyiv, even if Biden had, at another point, tried to put in some tough talk about holding Russia “accountable.” It certainly didn’t help that Biden seemed to be making allowances for maybe just a teeny-tiny invasion that didn’t amount to much, at least as viewed from the safety of the White House grounds.
“And so, I think what you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades,” Biden said, in answer to a question about NATO’s unity on the subject of Ukraine. “And it depends on what it does. It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, et cetera.
“But if they actually do what they’re capable of doing with the forces amassed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia if they further … invade Ukraine, and that our allies and partners are ready to impose severe costs and significant harm on Russia and the Russian economy.”
That doesn’t exactly sound convincing.
The ambiguity horrified Ukraine leaders — who have to be getting tired of being pawns in Democratic games, whether it’s part of their impeachment of former President Donald Trump or being treated as essentially expendable pieces on the global chessboard by Joe Biden.
“This gives the green light to Putin to enter Ukraine at his pleasure,” a Ukrainian official said, according to CNN. “Kyiv is stunned.”
A Ukrainian official told CNN’s Matthew Chance that he is “shocked that the US President Biden would distinguish between incursion and invasion.”
“This gives the green light to Putin to enter Ukraine at his pleasure,” the official said. “Kyiv is stunned.”https://t.co/zj22MovJp4
— Ryan Struyk (@ryanstruyk) January 19, 2022
Naturally, White House press secretary Psaki jumped in to do cleanup.
“President Biden has been clear with the Russian President: If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our Allies,” Psaki said in a statement Wednesday, after Biden’s news conference.
“President Biden also knows from long experience that the Russians have an extensive playbook of aggression short of military action, including cyberattacks and paramilitary tactics. And he affirmed today that those acts of Russian aggression will be met with a decisive, reciprocal, and united response.”
As anyone listening knows, that’s not at all what Biden said — at least as it pertained to “any Russian military forces” moving across the Ukraine border.
While there might be a certain amount of realpolitik involved in a president of the United States calculating the risks his Russian counterpart might be willing to weigh, there’s nothing good to be gained from his stating openly, before his country and the world, that he expects a military action of any kind — and that the U.S. and its allies would be dickering about what to do about it, depending on its degree.
Essentially, Biden told Putin that any U.S. reaction to a Russian “incursion” into Ukraine would be just as toothless as the response by the Obama administration — which Biden served — to Putin’s decision in 2014 to swallow the Ukraine province of Crimea.
Seven years later, Crimea is in Russian hands still. Russia is in Putin’s hands. And the beat goes on.
On social media, Psaki’s cleanup had plenty of critics.
Spin it how you want, we all heard him give the green light. Countdown is on…
— Smason (@JasonPoynter21) January 19, 2022
Totally not what paw said, but ok Jen….
— MrsPurple (@mrs_purple_10) January 20, 2022
CLEAN UP ON AISLE 46
— Justin Estes (@Brocksdaddy09) January 19, 2022
The fact that this needs to be said by you, says a whole lot. Take that for what it’s worth.
— Mike Conpropst (@MConpropst) January 20, 2022
Early Thursday EST, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky himself took to Twitter to offer what amounts to a plaintive objection.
We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations. Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones. I say this as the President of a great power
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) January 20, 2022
The problem, of course, is that Psaki is only a mouthpiece for the White House, while Biden is supposed to be in charge.
If the man in charge telegraphs to the world that his country is likely to stand by impotently in the face of naked aggression, it’s not going to go far for an underling to scurry out to try to pretend otherwise.
There’s no way to predict the future, of course, but it’s a good bet the Russian revanchists, the Chinese communists and the mullahs of Iran have already taken Biden’s measure, and it is not intimidating them. (And American-friendly governments in Taiwan, Israel and the rest of the world have no doubt noticed.)
When push comes to shove — as it may well in Ukraine soon — they know which statements coming out of the White House they’re going to bank on.
And it won’t be Jen Psaki’s.
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