How Putin's "Saber-Rattling" Forced A Biden Summit, Bypassing Kiev To Decide Ukraine's Fate

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by Tyler Durden
Friday, Apr 16, 2021 - 08:00 PM

As the leaders of France, Germany, and Ukraine hold an urgent meeting on Friday to discussing soaring tensions in eastern Ukraine and Russia's largescale military build-up near the border, Kiev continues to charge Moscow with aggressively stoking conflict:

Addressing a news conference on Thursday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba condemned the Kremlin’s "aggravation of the security situation" and accused Russian pundits and officials of "openly threatening Ukraine with war and the destruction of Ukrainian statehood".

And for Ukraine's part, President Volodymyr Zelensky has been using the crisis to push hard for rapid NATO membership. In his latest statements on Thursday, he tweeted, "I fully agree with [President of Georgia] Salome Zourabichvili that it is time for concrete proposals for Ukraine and Georgia to obtain a NATO MAP and a plan to join the EU."

And this followed a recent CNN interview wherein Zelensky demanded "more weapons, more money, and more support to join NATO" from Biden.

But given Biden's recent offer to sit down with Putin for a bilateral summit this summer, which is still on the table, it appears Ukraine's leadership has been effectively sidelined. As one FT piece underscored this week, Putin's troop build-up has succeeded in pressuring the Biden administration for a coveted summit to decide the future of Ukraine. 

"The summit format will also please the Kremlin by effectively cutting Kyiv out of any negotiations, and allow Putin to project the image of two global superpowers deciding the future fate of the conflict," FT observed.

Here's more from FT...

If Vladimir Putin’s decision to deploy tens of thousands of troops to Ukraine’s border in the past few weeks was driven primarily by a desire to get the west’s attention, he did not have to wait too long for his reward.

Hours after his defense minister on Tuesday admitted Russia had mobilised two armies and three paratroop divisions to positions close to the conflict-wracked frontier, US President Joe Biden phoned the Kremlin with an offer of a bilateral summit: a long sought-after prize for Putin who craves a seat at the world’s highest negotiating table. 

...Those 50,000 extra soldiers, scores of tanks and other heavy weaponry spooked Kyiv and other European powers, and sparked a hurried response from Nato and the US amid fears over a potential outbreak of fighting between the two countries

This wasn't a stand-alone assessment, given also this week BBC came to a similar conclusion.

The BBC commentary underscored that the Russian troop build-up was never ultimately about some kind of hyped "invasion" of Ukraine - as Kiev officials have been shouting - but instead about bringing massive leverage to bear in forcing Biden's hand. 

To the chagrin of the West's Russia hawks, the BBC essentially pointed to a major diplomatic victory and 'checkmate' of sorts for the Russian side...

The build-up has been impossible to ignore: thousands of Russian troops deployed towards Ukraine; US warships reportedly heading for the Black Sea and Russia's foreign ministry warning them off "for their own good".

As the hostile rhetoric and military moves around Ukraine have intensified, Western politicians have begun fearing an open invasion and urging Russia's Vladimir Putin to "de-escalate".

Russia has refused: the defense ministry this week insisted its moves were in response to "threatening" Nato exercises in Europe.

Then Mr Putin got a phone-call from the White House.

And then, noted the BBC, Biden suggested a near-future face-to-face summit with Putin, which gives Russia the edge given it was the US side that first proposed it:

"In Putin's game of brinkmanship, Biden blinked first," argues journalist Konstantin Eggert, after Joe Biden made his first call to the Kremlin and proposed meeting Mr Putin "in the coming months".

It's just weeks after the US president agreed with an interviewer that Russia's leader was "a killer".

President Biden's new move is now a new topic of debate - disaster prevention or a mistaken concession - but in the run-up to a summit, the risk of major military action by Russia certainly fades.

"That would be really unstatesmanlike: a slap in Biden's face," Mr Eggert told the BBC. "But the fact that it was Biden who suggested they meet does give Putin the edge."

Or in other words, "In Putin's game of brinkmanship, Biden blinked first".

Biden's hasty offer sparked widespread disappointment and anger among Russia hawks...

Eggert had this further to say, telling the BBC: "I think Putin attracted attention, he put himself in the focus not only of Europe but the US administration." And concluded further of Putin, "He managed to scare them, and he likes doing that."

But it still remains unclear how Moscow plans to react to Thursday's major Russia sanctions imposed by Biden. Certainly the punitive actions are intended by Washington to maintain leverage over the Kremlin - but for now it likely means Putin will keep up the pressure in the form of a strong military presence in Crimea, the Black Sea, and along Ukraine's border. The Kremlin has also reacted with a warning of "no de-escalation" - as Biden called for in his late Thursday address.