Russian-Ukrainian War: Joe Biden In Kyiv And Putin’s Nuclear Demarche

The situation at the front

As mentioned in the previous analysis, the Russians began their so-called big offense. Currently, Russian troops are trying to push Ukrainian units forward in the Kupiansk and Svatove directions, and the areas of Bakhmut, Maryinka, Avdiivka, and Vuhledar. They are trying to find weak spots in the Ukrainian defense so that they can then try to use the gaps for deeper tactical breakthroughs.

The most dangerous directions shortly will be those in the north of Luhansk and part of Kharkiv regions. The Russians have completed the formation of a classic formation of troops there, and are also relocating additional units there from Valuyki to saturate the front with troops. In the sector between Svatove and Kreminna, the Russians are trying to advance in the direction of Kupiansk, Lyman, and Siversk. An important dynamic is also taking place above Kupiansk, from where the enemy is likely planning to move to Izyum to reduce the presence of Ukrainian forces on the left bank of the Oskil River.

In the Bakhmut area, the situation does not change dramatically. Almost round-the-clock, the Russians are conducting assault operations there, in which both regular army units and various private military companies are involved. They continue trying to circumvent Bakhmut from the north, and also do not give up trying to reach the extreme southern point of the city. At the same time, over the past week, Ukrainian units have carried out several successful counterattacks in Bakhmut. In particular, the enemy was driven back from several blocks in the eastern part of the city.

In the southern direction, despite the recent failure and heavy losses, the Russians are likely to continue their attempts to advance in the area of ​​Vuhledar. Over the past week, they have relocated several brigades there for reinforcement. The goal of the Russians there is to secure their transport route from Volnovakha, and also to try to enter through Vuhledar the rear of the Ukrainian units defending Bakhmut. However, the effective actions of the Ukrainian forces in this area, give reason to assume that the new probable Russian attack on Vuhledar will end, like the previous ones, with another failure and new significant losses.

In general, when trying to put pressure on the Ukrainian defense lines in several directions at the same time, the Russians do not yet have the resources to change the situation at the operational, especially on the strategic level. Now Russian troops in Ukraine number about 320 thousand people, and somewhere else 100-120 thousand are in reserve. This is not enough for successful offensive operations in several directions, much less for holding the occupied territory.

US President in Kyiv

The news: On February 20, US President Joe Biden paid an official visit to Ukraine. This is the first visit of a US President to Ukraine in the last 15 years. The last time a visit of such a high level was made in 2008 by George W. Bush.

During his stay in Kyiv, the US President once again assured Ukraine that the United States would continue to support it and announced a new US $500 million military aid package to Ukraine.

Details: During his address, Joe Biden delivered some important messages, including:

– The United States has played an important role this year in providing unprecedented military, economic, and humanitarian assistance, and this comprehensive support from allies will continue.

– There is broad bipartisan support for Ukraine in Washington.

– Russia will lose, and Putin and his entourage will go to trial.

– The United States and its allies will provide Ukraine with all the necessary weapons.

In addition to public assurances of further support for Ukraine, the US President also announced a new $500 million military aid package, which, among other things, will include missiles for the HIMARS systems, Javelin anti-tank missile systems, etc. It is also important that during the face-to-face meeting, the presidents of the United States and Ukraine discussed the supply of long-range weapons to Ukraine.

Why it’s important: The Russians planned to “capture Kyiv in three days”, but they haven’t been able to do so for a year. And now in Kyiv, which according to the plans of the Russian President was supposed to be his, there is a president of Russia’s main strategic rival. That is, Joe Biden’s visit is a painful slap in Putin’s face, since the US President if he wants, can go where the Russian President cannot get on a tank within a year.

Usually, the US Presidential security services do not allow such visits for security reasons. That is, it was a personal decision of President Biden, contrary to everything that he was advised. He showed that he is personally on the side of Ukraine. This is a serious signal not only to Putin but also to other European leaders who are still thinking about how to help Putin save his face.

During the war, such visits play a greater role than any formal long negotiations. Especially if they take place on the eve of the anniversary of the invasion and when a representative of the Chinese leadership is visiting Moscow (and it does not matter that this is a third-level official). This means that the United States has not changed anything in terms of its strategy of supporting Ukraine and sees it as a partner and ally.

Moreover, President Biden, despite his sympathy for President Zelensky and Ukraine, would never have come to Kyiv if he had not been sure of a Ukrainian victory. Especially on the eve of an election, he simply cannot afford to be associated with the losing side.

Also, Joe Biden’s visit to Kyiv is a big slap in the face of Russian propaganda. The decision-making center, which the Russian propaganda so urged to hit, was known to everyone – the presidents of Ukraine and the United States held a meeting in the Mariinsky Palace. There has never been a better time for Russia to “hit the decision-making centers”. However, no strike came. That is, Joe Biden showed Putin and all Russians that no one in the world is afraid of them anymore.

Putin’s address

The news: On February 21, on the eve of the anniversary of the Russian large-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a message to the Federal Assembly, in which, in particular, he accused Western countries and Ukraine of “colonialism” and “deceit”, and stated that a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine was forced. He also announced the suspension of Russia’s participation in the Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (The START-3).

What they said: the G7 Foreign Ministers said they were not afraid of the Russian president’s nuclear threats and would continue to support Ukraine. “We are united in our condemnation in the strongest possible terms of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and its continued violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and Independence.

We reiterate our condemnation of Russia’s irresponsible nuclear rhetoric. It will not distract or dissuade us from supporting Ukraine, for as long as necessary.

Russia must immediately stop its war of aggression, withdraw all of its troops and military equipment from Ukraine, and respect Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders,” the G7 ministers said.

And the Office of the President of Ukraine noted that the Russian President in his address publicly showed confusion. “Putin publicly demonstrated his irrelevance and confusion. And he stressed that the Russian Federation is in an unconditional” taiga dead end “. And that he does not have and will not have promising solutions. Because everywhere there are” Nazis, Martians, and conspiracy theories “… the parliament of the Russian Federation…”, said Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine.

Why it’s important: By and large, there was nothing to analyze in this Putin’s address. He did not say anything new, except for the announcement of the termination of participation in the START-3 agreement.

In his address, Putin repeated the entire set of empty propaganda clichés that had been repeatedly used earlier to justify Russia’s aggression. However, nothing was said about the goals or the course of the war. Nothing was said either about the losses of the Russian army or about whether it is expedient to continue the war, what is the effectiveness of the actions of Russian troops in Ukraine. The explanation for this is quite simple: he simply had nothing to say on these topics. His “second army of the world” could not even capture Bakhmut by the anniversary of the invasion.

A lot of time was devoted to socio-economic stability, which is being kept despite Western sanctions. At the same time, all the widely known acute problems of Russia were just absent from the address. The entire socio-economic block was read with artificial emotions, without delving into the essence. In other words, there was a list of empty promises that could have been heard during his last speeches. And even the international, military, and military-technical blocs that are traditionally interesting to him were simply colorless. This suggests one thing: Russia has big problems in all spheres.

As for Russia’s decision to suspend its participation in the START-3 Treaty, it is a continuation of Putin’s nuclear blackmail tactics. Putin wanted to show, and above all the domestic audience, as Khrushchev once did, that he would show the world “Kuzma’s mother.” But, since the practical use of any form of nuclear weapons by the Kremlin is impossible, the Russian president limited himself to a verbal diplomatic demarche. Also, Russia has neither the strength nor the means for a new nuclear race.

In general, Putin’s address shows that he is not ready and does not intend to enter into any negotiations in the short term. He will exacerbate the repressive machine while immersing the country more and more in virtual reality. His main goal now is re-election and cementing his power. But this was already clear without his address.

China’s “peace” plan

The news: On February 24, on the anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Chinese Foreign Ministry presented a plan to resolve the Russian-Ukrainian war. The document contains 12 points that, according to Beijing, will contribute to the end of hostilities:

1. Respecting the sovereignty of all countries. 

2. Abandoning the Cold War mentality. 

3. Ceasing hostilities. 

4. Resuming peace talks. 

5. Resolving the humanitarian crisis. 

6. Protecting civilians and prisoners of war. 

7. Keeping nuclear power plants safe. 

8. Reducing strategic risks. 

9. Facilitating grain exports. 

10. Stopping unilateral sanctions. 

11. Keeping industrial and supply chains stable. 

12. Promoting post-conflict reconstruction. 

Details: China’s “peace” plan was announced last week. Wang Yi, the Director of the Office of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Chinese Communist Party, announced this at the Munich Security Conference.

The Chinese plan did not receive approval either from Ukraine or from its Western partners. The office of the President of Ukraine noted that this plan, which provides only for a ceasefire, would mean further occupation of Ukraine by Russia. The position of Kyiv is the withdrawal of all Russian troops. “Any “peace plan” that provides only for a “ceasefire” and, as a result, a new line of demarcation and continued occupation of the territory of Ukraine is not about peace, but about freezing the war, Ukraine’s loss, and subsequent stages of the Russian genocide. The position of Ukraine is known: the withdrawal of Russian troops to the borders of 1991,” said Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine.

NATO is also wary of China’s “peace” proposal. “China doesn’t have much credibility because it failed to condemn the illegal invasion of Ukraine,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, adding that days before the invasion, Beijing had signed an agreement with Moscow.

Why it matters: China’s “peace plan” can be summed up in a few words: for all good and against all bad. It contains many beautiful and at first glance understandable phrases, however, there is no main thing: specificity. The specificity of how to stop the war and seat Ukraine and Russia at the negotiating table. For example, even its first point does not suit any of the parties: Ukraine demands the withdrawal of Russian troops, and Russia declares its goal to reach the borders of the annexed regions. The call against unilateral sanctions concerns, first of all, China itself, because the US should have announced sanctions against Chinese companies.

The only specificity in favor of Ukraine is ensuring security at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and the inadmissibility of the use of nuclear weapons, as well as the extension of the “grain agreement”. Although the latter also has a specific Chinese interest, because China itself is a buyer of Ukrainian grain.

In general, nothing new compared to Beijing’s previous statements.

Moreover, most of the points of the Chinese plan appeal not so much to Moscow or Kyiv, but to the leading countries of the world. And in general, this is not so much a plan as the Chinese vision of what the new world order should be like – such a Chinese vision of the new Yalta system. Therefore, the main goal of China’s “peace” plan is not to show that it will be an active participant in the process of resolving the Ukrainian-Russian confrontation but to remind that it is a big world player and that in all the processes that are taking place in the world today, including Russian-Ukrainian war, its interests must be taken into account.

Igor Fedyk

Head of the South Eastern Europe Section

Igor coordinates the South Eastern Europe Section of the New Geopolitics Research Network. He previously worked as the Head of the Balkan section of the Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies, as well as the Deputy Editor-in-chief of the English-language magazine The Ukrainian Defense Review.

His current research interests are focused on the political, economic and social aspects of the development of the South Eastern Europe and Balkan countries, their interstate and inter-ethnic relations, as well as the relations with third parties (countries not from the region, international organizations), which have an important impact on the situation in the region and in Europe.

He is the author of a number of articles and analyses in various Ukrainian and foreign Media.

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February 2023
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