Vladimir Putin has emerged as a major beneficiary of President Joe Biden’s surrender in Afghanistan and his backing off sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
Russia and Belarus have announced plans to conduct a joint military exercise from Sept. 10 to 16 called Zapad 2021 that takes on added significance due to NATO’s humiliation in Afghanistan and the lack of confidence in the alliance among its easternmost members. They say it will point out the “futility” of NATO reinforcing Poland and the Baltics in the first major show of force since Biden’s reckless withdrawal.
Over 200,000 troops, 80 aircraft, 760 military vehicles, and 15 ships will be involved in the exercise, the Russian news site Gazeta.ru reported.
“They want to tell us that there is a projection of a military bloc for the Kaliningrad enclave so that we feel and understand it. We are ready for these hints and made it clear to them. I believe that during the Zapad-2021 exercise we will once again try to show our partners that there is no need to do this, there is no need to bother the Russian bear,” Andrei Kartapolov, head of the Main Military-Political Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces, told a Moscow radio station.
Russia and Belarus have held similar exercises in prior years, but this exercise takes on added significance in the wake of Biden’s humiliating performance and leadership in Afghanistan.
Earlier this year the Polish military suffered a major defeat in a wargame that exposed its vulnerability to attack by Russian forces in the adjacent Kaliningrad region, which exposed the weakness of NATO’s eastern flank.
Russia and Belarus are also in discussions to deploy Russia’s S-400 surface-to-air missiles to Belarusian territory, which aims to deny NATO aircraft access to the airspace over Poland and the Baltics.
Biden’s hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan has America’s most vulnerable NATO allies thinking about alternatives. It has visibly shaken their confidence. This is particularly true of Poland and the Baltic States, which have felt threatened by Russia since it invaded Crimea in 2014. Instead of projecting strength in the face of Russian aggression, NATO now projects weakness, something that Putin will likely exploit.
“This kind of troop withdrawal caused chaos. Chaos causes additional suffering,” Artis Pabriks, Latvia’s defense minister, told local radio last week according to The Financial Times. Such long-term missions were unlikely in the future, he added: “This era is over. Unfortunately, the West, and Europe in particular, are showing they are weaker globally.”
Poles are nervous about the defeat in Afghanistan and worry they will feel the consequences on their borders with the Russian bear breathing down their necks. A post from an unidentified ordinary Pole that appeared on the Polish news website Wirtualna Polska lashed out at Biden and NATO, saying “Shame on the USA and NATO! Thousands of young people have died, and now they are running like rats from a sinking ship.” Another poster warned that history would repeat itself and that Poland was on its own.
A leading Polish journalist warned that Russian provocations to undermine NATO would likely increase.
“… [T]he number of military provocations will increase, not only in the airspace, but also in the Baltic Sea, where Russia is strengthening its navy. Moscow is also likely to try to undermine the cohesion of the Alliance, or even launch a targeted attack on one of its weak members, testing the reaction of others,” Grzegorz Janiszewski wrote in the Polish news magazine Do Rzeczy.
Biden has left our allies on NATO’s eastern flank feeling they are on their own. The destruction of NATO’s credibility could make war more likely.
Putin has used the Nord Stream 2 as a wedge to divide NATO. The pipeline circumvents Ukraine and gives Russia leverage over the West to pit it against Ukraine in the Russians’ favor and is widely considered an aspect of gray-zone warfare.
Biden’s decision to back down against Putin over the Nord Stream 2 project particularly angered Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who had been a staunch supporter of Trump’s effort to sanction work on the pipeline.
And Germany’s heir apparent to Chancellor Angela Merkel, Armin Laschet, was blunt about the fallout from the disorganized withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“This is the greatest debacle that NATO has seen since its foundation, and it is an epochal change that we are facing,” Laschet said.
Merkel criticized the fact German troop deployments in Afghanistan were dependent on the U.S. government.
Biden’s Afghanistan catastrophe accomplished what Biden claimed would happen if former President Donald Trump was re-elected. It has discredited NATO.
Biden ran for president saying he would work to strengthen the NATO alliance, in contrast with Trump. He even ran an ad that accused the former president of being “dangerously incompetent” due to his frosty relations with NATO leaders.
“If we give Donald Trump four more years, we will have a great deal of difficulty of ever being able to recover America’s standing in the world and our capacity to bring nations together,” Biden said in the ad.
The president claimed in a Democratic debate in July 2019 that “the NATO alliance will fall apart” if Trump were re-elected. However, Biden, a man who spent the Trump years crowing about his support for NATO and condemning the former president’s skepticism of the alliance, has discredited the United States in the eyes of members of the alliance.
“I think that what has happened shows that Europe needs to develop this famous ‘strategic autonomy’ in order to be ready to face challenges that affect us eventually,” EU High Representative Josep Borrell of Spain said during an extraordinary videoconference of EU Foreign Ministers, noting that the Afghanistan experience reminds Europe that it needs to make other arrangements for its security.
Biden is who he claimed Trump would be. History shows that weakness and appeasement invites wars.
Biden has given Putin more in eight months as president than Trump gave in four years.
In the late 1990s, Putin is alleged to have said that the way to destroy NATO was from within. It seems that Biden is giving Putin his wish.