The more Russian President Vladimir Putin tries to break NATO, the stronger it gets.
Not for the first time in the war in Ukraine, President Joe Biden took decisive action that closed fissures in the alliance. He announced Wednesday he would ship 31 advanced US tanks to Kyiv’s military in a move that prompted a reluctant Germany to drop its resistance to sending its own tanks and could unlock similar moves all over Europe.
This represented a significant symbolic, political and military win for Ukraine. It hopes what it calls its new “iron fist” will punch through entrenched Russian lines in the east, could fuel an advance on Russia’s land bridge to annexed Crimea in the south and will stave off a feared Russian spring offensive.
It took Biden’s statesmanship to end the most public and damaging Western rift of the war so far. The US had previously said its Abrams tanks were too complex and too high maintenance for the Ukraine war and didn’t suit the terrain. But Biden’s change of heart, which gives Germany cover, underscores Washington’s view that Western unity against Putin is critical to saving Ukraine.
Indeed, Putin’s major goal off the battlefield is to forge splits between the Western allies and to disrupt or end the flow of weapons on which Ukraine’s survival as an independent nation depends.
His failure, despite fierce Russian public threats designed to bully European nations into balking at tank transfers, also comes after a mild winter robbed Russia of another prong of its strategy – starving Europeans of gas imports during freezing weather in hopes they’d pressure their own leaders to step back from supporting Ukraine.
“Putin expected Europe and the United States to weaken our resolve,” Biden said at the White House on Wednesday. “He expected our support for Ukraine to crumble with time. He was wrong … and he was wrong from the beginning and he continues to be wrong. We are united.”
An extraordinary strategic shift has taken place
As the first anniversary of the unprovoked Russian invasion approaches, Biden and the West are in an extraordinary position that few strategists would have thought possible a year ago.
— NATO is stronger and more unified than it has been for years. And that is a strategic disaster for Russia. The sense of drift in the alliance early in the 21st century has been driven away by a reminder of the bloc’s founding purpose: a common defense against Moscow’s aggression. Putin’s behavior will ensure that that alliance-nurturing lesson will endure for decades.
— Biden has pinned his legacy on a major land war in Europe in which the United States has engaged in an effective proxy battle with nuclear rival Russia. This fight – which is, in a way, the last battle of the Cold War – is a test of will between an American president and a Kremlin strongman deeply influenced by the US-Soviet standoff. Biden is leading the most significant foreign policy venture at least since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Its success is critical for America’s credibility as well as his own. The magnitude of the mission is likely to overshadow much of the rest of his presidency – including the current investigation into misplaced classified documents – in world history.