For the first six months of the Ukraine war, most of Washington dismissed the notion that Russia might resort to nuclear weapons to resolve the conflict. In recent days, the level of concern has increased sharply, although it still is far below panic.
Effectively, the 2024 presidential campaign is underway, but for the time being it remains a contest between two elderly men when younger talent is badly needed in Washington. The outcome of the mid-term elections will be seen as evidence whether either or both should step aside or, run again.
Hideous though the fighting continues to be, it is likely to continue until some basic political circumstance alters. It is highly speculative to imagine a context in which a peace settlement could be negotiated, let alone what that settlement might entail …
Despite an ongoing and serious European war, curiously little has altered in Washington toward Russia and Ukraine since our mid-April note. In terms of US policy, the real news is the absence of much real news.
The Congress has been dithering for weeks on a variety of proposals to punish Russia and aid Ukraine, with very little to show for it. The reason is that the White House firmly took command of US policy when the war started and has demonstrated that an administration can act more quickly and more coherently than can a legislature, and this legislature in particular.
The United States Government — with broad bipartisan support — is hunkered down for a new Cold War with Russia. This confrontation will center on but by no means be limited to Ukraine.
The Ukraine crisis is playing holy hell with Joe Biden’s international agenda. Climate change, engaging Iran and containing China are all sidelined for the moment as the United States is consumed with a dispute the White House does not want and in a part of the world it would prefer to avoid.
The Kremlin has dealt Biden a poker hand on Ukraine he might prefer to fold. Ever the seeker of compromise, Biden has offered to find “accommodation” of Russian security concerns, a term already translated as “appeasement” by the President’s political opponents.
As he approaches the end of his first year in office, Joseph Biden has signaled clearly that neither Russia nor Ukraine is among his top international priorities. But he has made clear he would prefer that overall relations with Moscow should improve rather than deteriorate further. The White House will only pursue new sanctions where it must, as on cybersecurity or when Congress gives it no wiggle room.
In recent months, especially since the summit in Geneva, hopes have risen that the treadmill of sanctions applied by the US against Russia since 2014, had come to an end. However, that optimism now appears to be premature, if not completely unrealistic.