Raising the stakes in Ukraine

Could Biden’s domestic difficulties prompt him to escalate against Russia?

After being sworn in for a new presidential term that will make him Russia’s longest serving leader since Catherine the Great, Vladimir Putin extended an offer to his Western adversaries to engage in dialogue on an equal footing to achieve strategic security and stability.

At the same time, the Kiev government announced it had uncovered a plot by Russian intelligence to assassinate President Volodymyr Zelensky and other Ukrainian political and military leaders. Several senior Ukrainian security officials were said to be involved in the conspiracy, which was supposedly intended as a ‘gift’ to Putin to celebrate his inauguration for a fifth presidential term.

We don’t know what truth there is to the claim about a plot on Zelensky’s life or Russia’s involvement in it.

But it wouldn’t be a surprise if it was the US and its Western allies that were trying to get rid of Zelensky and his top acolytes — having outlived their purpose, after failing to regain lost Ukrainian territories or secure the country’s accession to NATO. Zelensky’s cancellation of the presidential election due this year make this theory more plausible.

Putin issued his call for dialogue from a position of strength as the winning side in the war. The previous day, he ordered his military commanders to conduct tactical and strategic nuclear weapons exercises as a contingency against US, British, and French threats to his country.

This followed statements by French President Emmanuel Macron threatening to deploy French and European troops in Ukraine, and British Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron endorsing UK-supplied weapons to attack Russian territory.

More than two years into the war, Russian forces have been making notable advances, while the Ukrainian army is badly depleted and demoralised and has failed to retake any territory in the east and southeast of the country.

Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip has played a significant role in these setbacks. It caused the US and its allies to divert many billions of dollars and thousands of tonnes of weapons and military equipment that could have been sent from Ukraine to Israel in support of its genocidal war.

Zelensky was reduced to complaining and envying Israel for getting so much more support than he did.

As the Russian military analyst Aleksandr Nazarov noted, this all leaves the West with two basic options: either to concede defeat in Ukraine; or for NATO to join the war directly and risk triggering a cataclysmic nuclear conflict.

It could go either way. Some analysts say Putin may try to push things to the brink after his massive electoral victory. But others suggest it could be Biden who fires the first shot given his desperate position at home and the deep polarisation within US society — including the student revolt in protest at the war on Gaza — ahead of the forthcoming elections.


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