Almost two months after Vladimir Putin’s brutal assault on Ukraine , the Biden administration and its European allies are beginning to plan and prepare for a totally different world, in which they will no longer try to coexist and cooperate with Russia, but instead will actively isolate and weaken it as a long-term strategy.
NATO and the European Union (EU), as well as the US State Department, the Pentagon and allied defense ministries, are already drafting new policies on almost every aspect of the West’s position on Moscow , from military and financial to diplomatic and commercial exchange.
The most immediate and direct recipient of the international outrage is Putin himself, about whom President Biden said last month that he “cannot stay in power” . Another senior EU diplomat, meanwhile, said that “while we are not talking about regime change, it is difficult to imagine a scenario of stability if Putin continues to act in this way.”
But the West’s nascent strategy points well beyond the Kremlin leader, and planners are still reviewing the first steps to be announced in the coming months. Biden’s first National Security Strategy, which by law was to be presented last year but is still incomplete, most likely contains many modifications compared to the expected one, which was initially going to focus almost exclusively on China and an internal renewal in the United States. . The Pentagon’s new National Defense Strategy sent to Congress last month in the form of classified documents prioritizes what a Pentagon summary calls “the Russia challenge in Europe” as well as the threat from China.
The first Strategic Concept document issued by NATO since 2010, when it sought a “true strategic partnership” with Russia, will be revealed at the alliance’s summit next June. “The option of meaningful dialogue is no longer available to Russia,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference earlier this month.
The European Union already has plans to cut its heavy reliance on Russian gas by two-thirds by the end of this year and end all fossil fuel imports from Russia by 2030 . towards zero imports that at the same time ensures our energy independence from Russian oil and gas ,” Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra told a Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies forum on Thursday.
“For some, that will be a trajectory of months. For others, it may be years. For in the Netherlands and many other nations we take it very seriously: to never make the same mistake again,” said Hoekstra.
The allies have announced major phased increases in the defense budget that will be extended in the future. It is also believed that Finland and Sweden will apply to join NATO before the June summit in Madrid, a significant change in the balance of European security, which also implies a considerable increase in the military presence of the Atlantic alliance on the borders. same as Russia.
A week ago, Biden signed bills ending normal US trade relations with Russia and establishing a ban on importing Russian oil. Last week, the United Nations General Assembly voted to suspend Russia’s participation in the UN Human Rights Council , and a long-standing movement to reconsider the membership and powers of the Security Council gained renewed momentum. where Russia freely uses and abuses its veto power.
Few Western leaders dare to guess when and how the Ukraine crisis will unravel. Many of the proposed changes “cannot be fully decided until we know how this conflict ends ,” says Alexander Vershbow , a former US ambassador to Russia, a senior Pentagon official and NATO deputy secretary general. “Will it end or will it be prolonged with an unstable ceasefire, a kind of neither war nor peace that lasts several years?”
But the elaboration of the long-term strategy continues and runs in parallel with the immediate tightening of sanctions against Moscow, the reinforcement of arms aid to Ukraine and the deployment of tens of thousands of NATO troops on the eastern border. of the alliance. It is now being assessed that many of these measures could be maintained permanently, according to public and private statements by Western leaders and officials.
” The goal, ultimately, is a free and independent Ukraine, a weakened and isolated Russia, and a stronger, more unified, and more determined West, ” Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan , said last Sunday on the show ” Meet the Press” on NBC. “And we think those three goals are within sight.”
Some question the logic behind such plans, doubt the West’s persistence, and advise against a return to the “containment” policy that governed relations with the Soviet Union. Others say that the Ukraine crisis and its profound effect on Europe present the United States with a perfect opportunity to shrug off some of its onerous self-assumed responsibilities in defense of the free world.
“If anything, the war strengthens the case for strategic discipline, as it encourages Europe to catch up with Russia while the United States focuses on security in Asia and internal renewal,” noted historian Stephen Wertheim . in this month’s Foreign Affairs magazine .
But not everyone is in favor of isolating Moscow in the long run. In France, President Emmanuel Macron is locked in an unusually close race for re-election against rising candidate Marine Le Pen , who has called for NATO reconciliation with Russia and reiterated her commitment to removing France from the alliance’s integrated command. , if chosen. And in Germany there are numerous voices in favor of keeping the door open for dialogue with the Kremlin to facilitate an eventual rapprochement.
In the United States, the issue is one of the few on which Biden has strong bipartisan support. In fact, support for a hard line against Russia even seems to have tempered the Republican disdain for NATO that was a hallmark of the Trump administration , because from Washington to Russia’s western border, alliance members insist that holding a common position It is more essential today than ever.
However, if the sense of immediacy in Ukraine dissipates as daily images of new horrors unfold there, disagreements will inevitably start to emerge in NATO over increased defense spending, the need to make concessions with Russia in issues such as nuclear non-proliferation, accusations that China is diverting attention, and disruptions in international trade, which fuel world inflation and hinder the US president’s domestic agenda.
“ The time to commit to the long-term struggle is now: we have to be united today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, and for years and decades to come ,” Biden said, referring to the struggle between democracy and autocracy during his visit to Warsaw. last month. “But it won’t be easy. And it will have its price.”
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