As things stand on the Ukrainian border with Russia, it appears only Vladimir Putin knows whether an invasion will actually take place. Yet, within the Biden administration, questioning the imminence of such a move is beginning to earn scorn — and we should probably start asking: Why?
Some weeks ago, I noted that supposed Ukraine expert and Trump impeachment architect Alexander Vindman was conveniently avoiding any criticism of Joe Biden's handling of the situation. Yet, he didn't hold back when it came to going after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Unhelpful. He should be preparing his people for what's coming. That's more important that downplaying the threat and presenting false confidence. https://t.co/tYqGbM5N4T— Alexander S. Vindman (@AVindman) January 19, 2022
Now, the White House itself is taking shots at Zalensky, not for stoking the flames of war, but for not whipping his people up into enough of a panic. Over the last few days, the Ukrainian president has pushed back on the US framing of the threat, insisting he knows more about the situation than Joe Biden.
Per CNN, that led to a public response that Zelensky is “downplaying the risk,” something the White House apparently finds unacceptable.
“We understand the difficult position (Ukrainian) President (Volodymyr) Zelensky is in and the pressure he's under,” a White House official said Saturday. “But at the same time he's downplaying the risk of invasion, he's asking for hundreds of millions of dollars in weapons to defend against one. We think it's important to be open and candid about that threat.”
There's certainly some hypocrisy in such a comment given the White House's penchant for whitewashing any problem it finds politically inconvenient. Still, I don't understand the strategy here in pressuring Ukraine to essentially concede an invasion.
What is to be gained by pumping up Russia in such a way? Wouldn't the smarter move be to prepare militarily behind the scenes but to present a united front publicly? The official above notes that Ukraine has been asking for weapons, but that doesn't equate to Zelensky believing an invasion is imminent. Ukraine has been asking for weapons for years in order to build its defensive capabilities.
The Biden administration seems to have this weird obsession with pushing Russia's invasion narrative for them. Putin wants Ukrainians to live in fear and to doubt their current leadership. That's part of the psychological warfare at play to turn parts of the Eastern European country to his side, as happened in the Crimea region. But when Zelensky attempts to project strength and calm in the face of that, the White House attacks him for not giving Russia's aggression enough credit. Minions like Vindman then scurry out to do their cable news hits, parroting the Biden narrative.
Is this pettiness coming from the fact that Zelensky and Donald Trump were chummy? Or does Biden naively believe that conditioning Americans for a Russian invasion of Europe will somehow lessen the political damage back at home? Whatever it is, the White House strategy appears rather misguided and counter-productive, and there's too much smoke to not suspect something is going on behind the scenes.