By Ray McGovern, December 30, 2022
As some will remember, I have been calling attention repeatedly to Biden’s assurance to Putin one year ago today, that “Washington had no intention of deploying offensive strike weapons in Ukraine.”
What did it mean when just 13 days later – following a Biden-Putin conversation on Feb. 12, 2022 – the Kremlin (Ushakov) lamented “we have received no meaningful response on non-deployment of strike weapons systems on Ukrainian territory”. In my view, Putin saw this as further proof that Biden is not his own man, that someone had changed Biden’s mind; in other words, that Biden himself is недоговороспособный (not able, not capable of making a deal).
And so, after securing a nihil obstat from Xi Jinping, Russia invaded Ukraine 12 days after Ushakov’s lament.
Media analysis, a highly useful tool in the hands of experienced analysts (Kremlinologists and Sinologists, in particular) has fallen into disuse. One major exception is Alexander Mercouris. So, before submitting my draft to antiwar.com yesterday, I asked Alexander if he saw things the way I saw them on this important question. I had to go ahead and file my story before he could respond. I was happy to receive these comments from him this morning. I share them with his permission.
Following is text of Dec. 30 email from Alexander Mercouris:
I don’t think you are making too much of this.
I was following the news very closely at the time of this call [the Putin-Biden call of Dec. 30] and I remember that the Russians came away from it guardedly but decidedly more optimistic than when they went in. They definitely came out of it believing that progress was being made.
Moreover there is no doubt of the very real anxiety the Russians have had about the deployment of US missiles in eastern Europe ever since that disastrous idea was first floated in the Bush II era, and of their extreme concern – set out at length in Putin’s lengthy address in February when he recognised the independence of the two Donbass republics – about the possibility that the US and NATO might install missiles in Ukraine.
Undoubtedly one of their objectives is and has been to prevent that happening.
Moreover I have no doubt of the accuracy of the Russian readout. As you rightly say, the US has never denied it. Given the importance of the issue to them the Russians would not make up a sentence like the one you have highlighted out of empty air, and the sentence is carefully drafted to make it clear that Biden spoke of an intention, as opposed to a commitment, with the Russians undoubtedly believing that he was signaling a willingness to talk about the issue. If the Russians were simply making it all up, they would have presumably made it seem that Biden was making some sort of commitment or promise, not just stating an intention. The fact that the readout has Biden speaking of an intention which fell short of a commitment or promise to my mind gives the readout the ring of truth.
When it subsequently became clear that the US would not agree to talks on this issue, or indeed on any other topic (such as Ukraine’s NATO membership) which concerned the Russians, the Russians must have asked themselves what in that case was the point of the talks the US was purportedly offering to them? They must have concluded – indeed they have effectively said that they did conclude – that on every issue which was important to them – including the one about the missiles in Ukraine – the administration was simply stringing them along. That would of course have destroyed whatever trust was left.
I would add that White House readouts have in recent years – and not just during this administration – become extremely uninformative, rarely going beyond cliches. For any real sense of what was actually discussed in a conversation or meeting with a foreign leader, I am sorry to say that one must now go to the readout produced by the other side.
I would add that this pattern of the Biden administration saying one thing and then doing its opposite is not unique to this case. During our Live Stream [ See: https://raymcgovern.com/2022/12/11/us-intelligence-community-conflict-with-russia-ray-mcgovern-alexander-mercouris-glenn-diesen/ ] I mentioned how a Chinese readout of a conversation between Biden and Xi Jinping had Xi Jinping telling Biden that whilst Biden repeatedly spoke of his commitment to the One China policy, in reality the Biden administration was taking constant steps that contradicted the policy. There has now been another similar example. A recording has recently come to light of Biden apparently telling a woman that though the JCPOA is dead, the US will not say so publicly, meaning that though the negotiations to revive the JCPOA purportedly continue, they have now become simply a pretence, and are devoid of substance.
That this is a ruinous approach to discussions with foreign leaders, who must see such behaviour as deeply duplicitous, and who by the way are by now almost certainly comparing notes with each other (the Chinese and the Russians certainly are), does not seem to occur to anyone in a position of authority in Washington.
END of Mercouris email