Poland and Lithuania on Monday openly broke ranks with the Biden administration over Ukraine. It evinces their deep concern over the U.S. response to Russia's threatened invasion of Ukraine.
In a show of support for Ukraine, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda and Polish President Andrzej Duda traveled to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The three leaders "called upon the international community to step up sanctions on the Russian Federation over its ongoing aggression against Ukraine." In a clear reference to Ukraine's want for more weapons, Zelensky requested "powerful preventative actions" from the West.
Duda best encapsulated the three eastern flank nations' concerns. Referencing Russian demands for a new treaty to limit NATO engagement in Eastern Europe, Duda declared that he is "categorically against making any concessions to Russia. It’s clear that it’s Russia which must step back."
Contrast Duda's words with what the Biden administration is saying.
On Friday, a senior administration official said that when it comes to Russia's demands, "there are other things that we are prepared [to] work with and that merit some discussion." No surprise, then, that Zelensky did not include the U.S. when he observed that facing Russia's threat, "Ukraine, Poland, and Lithuania are the vanguard of that deterrence today." This language will ring alarm bells across the U.S. national security establishment.
Although loathe to admit it, the Biden administration is aware of this trust gap with its eastern flank allies.
In turn, the White House is trying to bolster allied confidence by leaking new proposals that might follow any Russian reinvasion of Ukraine. David Ignatius reported on Sunday that the United States might provide support for a Ukrainian guerrilla campaign against invading forces. The problem is that this leak is uncertain, doubted, and belies the Biden administration's failure to provide more arms to Ukraine, now. The risks of this approach are tactical as well as strategic. As the Finnish analyst Aki Heikkinen observed, providing those arms would mitigate the alternate need of Ukrainian guerrilla forces to use city blocks for combat cover.
In Kyiv, Warsaw, and Vilnius, the absence of U.S. resolution against Russia is obvious and alarming. Ukraine has been shocked by President Joe Biden's willingness to adopt Russian negotiating protocols over the conflict. The Poles were particularly disheartened in November when the U.S. failed to join Britain in sending troops to guard its Belorussian border in face of a Russian orchestrated migrant wave. At the time, I asked the State Department whether the Poles had made such a request. A State Department spokesperson tersely told me, "We are not going to get into the details of our diplomatic conversations."
Still, the White House pushes on with its appeasement policy. On Monday, national security adviser Jake Sullivan held yet another call with the Kremlin about its security demands. So also does the administration remain willfully blind to Russia's continuing energy war on Europe. That war took another step on Saturday when Russia cut gas supplies through the Yamal pipeline. It's a clear Russian effort to intimidate Germany over its failure thus far to expedite approval of the Nord Stream 2 energy pipeline. Vladimir Putin knows he has seized the strategic initiative.
Still, the top line is quite simple. The Polish, Lithuanians, and Ukrainians recognize something that the French and Germans don't really care about and that Biden has apparently forgotten. Namely, that history proves you cannot negotiate with Russia from a position of weakness. Only from a position of clarity, respect, and resolve.
Putin is going for the European jugular not because he is somehow inherently destined to do so. But rather because Biden is serving not as leader of the free world but as a butler to Putin's aggression.