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A Putin summer surprise for NATO? Concerns are growing.

A Putin summer surprise for NATO?  Concerns are growing.
A Putin summer surprise for NATO?  Concerns are growing.

 


A Putin summer surprise for NATO?  Concerns are growing.

Senior Biden administration officials fear Russian President Vladimir Putin may have more Ukraine surprises in store, timed to disrupt and overshadow NATO's 75th anniversary summit in Washington July 9-11 .

He wants nothing more than to rain on our parade, a senior U.S. official told me recently. Some administration officials are considering potential scenarios and possible responses, although it is difficult to fully focus on Ukraine given the war in the Middle East and so much else at stake.

There is a wide range of possibilities. Putin could, for example, launch an even fiercer and broader summer military offensive in Ukraine than the one currently underway. He could use new weapons, maybe even a space weapon. At the same time, it could advance a more determined (but still disingenuous) peace proposal or ceasefire effort intended primarily to appeal to world opinion, even as NATO members provide Ukraine more military power.

Given Putin's past behavior in the face of major world events, a summer surprise would not seem so surprising. Russia's invasion of Georgia in 2008 was timed to coincide with the Beijing Summer Olympics; its 2014 invasion of Ukraine took place during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia; and its second invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 followed a meeting between Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping before the Beijing Winter Olympics that year.

Beyond Putin's penchant for global attention at such times, there are other reasons to fear that this summer could be the most dangerous for Ukraine, and thus also for the NATO Alliance , just days before the Republican and Democratic political conventions in the United States. .

The best way to respond even better, and to anticipate any possible summer surprise from Putin, would be to create a surprise from NATO at its summit.

Putin seems determined, even if his position is not enviable. Within several weeks, the US Congress finally approved its major aid package and several countries agreed that Ukraine could use its weapons to target military sites in Russia. France, for its part, is rapidly developing an initiative to deploy soldiers as trainers in Ukraine. But there is no evidence that any of this has persuaded Putin to reconsider his aggressive plans toward Ukraine. Instead, he appears to have decided to redouble his offensive this summer, ahead of the arrival of more American war materiel. Ukraine's air defense will remain vulnerable for many weeks.

There has been no let-up in the ongoing Russian offensive around Kharkive, even as there has been virtually no forward movement for weeks and Putin's relentless attacks on sources of Ukrainian energy and infrastructure continues to cause substantial damage. The Kremlin still has substantial reserves that can be allocated to the Kharkiv offensive, to expand the so far unsuccessful campaign in Donbass to take Chasiv Yar, or to launch a new offensive in the north towards Sumy.

Besides these reservations, there are other factors that encourage Putin. kyiv continues to face a labor shortage, mainly due to a culture where young men should not be recruited until their late 20s. The Zelensky administration and the Rada recently took a step to resolve this problem by lowering the conscription age by two years, to twenty-five, but this politically difficult decision does not solve the problem of overuse of military troops. First line.

Putin also looks forward to his re-election in March and his two-day meeting with Xi in Beijing last month. At the same time, he must view the crisis in Gaza and the US election campaign as welcome distractions for US leaders. That’s why a senior U.S. official told me that Putin feels some confidence.

At seventy-one, Putin consolidated his hold on Russian power, with official results showing he took power. 87 percent of the March vote, a result he is using to further justify his war against Ukraine. His new six-year term, if he completes it, would allow him to surpass Joseph Stalin as Russia's longest-serving leader in two centuries. The subtext: the world will face an emboldened Russia for the foreseeable future.

Putin's meeting with Xi in May underlined the Chinese leadership's determination to redouble its support for its Russian counterpart. Xi is doing so despite growing criticism from the United States and Europe and leaks concerning the details of how China enables and empowers Russia's continued war.

Speaking about the war in Ukraine, Putin thanked Xi for the initiatives he proposed to resolve this problem. Putin said: “This partnership is undoubtedly an example of what relations between neighboring states should be.

Today's China-Russia relations are hard-won, and both sides should cherish and nurture them, Xi said.

US President Joe Biden's recent moves to ease restrictions on Ukraine's use of US weapons to strike targets in Russia would have raised more concerns in Russia without the limited nature of the restrictions being lifted, applying only to areas of Russia from where the eastern city of Kharkiv is affected.

During his speech commemorating the eightieth anniversary of D-Day last week, Biden made a direct connection between the fight against fascism during World War II and the war in Ukraine. He said the United States would not leave the conflict. Because if we do, he explained, Ukraine will be subjugated and it will not stop there. Ukraine's neighbors will be threatened. The whole of Europe will be threatened.

Yet Russia's experience shows that Biden's rhetoric is tougher than his willingness to supply American weapons in a way that would increase Ukraine's chances not only of survival but also of victory.

Putin may also be reassured by Biden's continued reluctance to support Ukraine's NATO membership, expressed again in a recent interview with the US president in 2017. TIME review. Biden's comments opposing, in his own words, NATOization of Ukraine were a preemptive move by the US president ahead of the upcoming NATO summit. Alliance members will likely provide Ukraine with a bridge to NATO, but not a time-bound path to full membership and, with it, the allies' proven security guarantee bordering Russia.

The same Biden administration officials who worry about a summer surprise hope that Ukrainian forces can maintain their defensive lines against the Russians in 2024, then launch a new military offensive in 2025 with replenished reserves of ammunition and soldiers . Ukraine could then regain enough territory to improve its negotiating position.

The best way to respond even better, and to preempt any possible summer surprise from Putin, would be to create a surprise from NATO at its summit, a surprise that would demonstrate a level of unity and determination that would compel Putin to rethink his ambitions in Ukraine. Such a surprise could be a more clearly defined and delineated Ukrainian path to Alliance membership, making it clear to Putin that he cannot block this outcome through continued war. Another solution would be to lift all restrictions on Ukraine's use of U.S. and allied weapons, thereby removing once and for all any safe haven for Russian aggressors.

It is time for Ukraine's friends, at this moment of maximum danger, to steal the initiative from Putin with policies and practices that undermine his confidence and restore Ukraine's momentum.

Wishful thinking remains an inadequate strategy for defeating Putin.


Frederick Kempe is president and CEO of the Atlantic Council. You can follow him on Twitter: @FredKempe.

This edition is part of the Frederick Kempes Inflection Points Today newsletter, a fast-paced news column about a world in transition. To receive this newsletter throughout the week, register here.

Further reading

Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a joint statement with Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev following an expanded format meeting at the Kuksaroy Presidential Palace in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, May 27, 2024. Sputnik/Sergey Bobylev/Kremlin

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