Ukraine-Russia War: Live Updates – The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Vladimir V. Putin’s calculated decision on Wednesday to test launch a new intercontinental ballistic missile, declaring it a warning to those in the West who are “trying to threaten our country,” has fueled growing concern within the Biden administration: that Russia is now so isolated from the rest of the world that Mr. Putin sees little downside to provocative actions.

Even before the missile was launched, US officials and foreign leaders wondered if their success in cutting Russia off from much of the world economy, making it a diplomatic pariah, could still fuel Mr. Putin’s will. to affirm the strength of his country. The first launch of the nuclear-capable Sarmat missile was just the latest example of how it tried to remind the world of its capabilities – in space, in cyberspace and along Europe’s shores – despite early setbacks on the ground in Ukraine.

“He is now on his own war logic,” Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said last week after meeting Mr Putin in Russia. He described the Russian president as more determined than ever to counter what he sees as a growing threat from the West and to win back Russia’s sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.

William J. Burns, the CIA director, said last week that “every day Putin demonstrates that declining powers can be at least as disruptive as rising powers,” adding that his “risk appetite has increased as his grip on Russia tightened”.

Privately, US officials have been more blunt about the possibility of a lone Russian leader unleashing in even more destabilizing ways. “We have been so successful in disconnecting Putin from the global system that he has even more incentive to disrupt it beyond Ukraine,” a senior intelligence official said in a recent chat, insisting on anonymity for discuss intelligence assessments. “And if he gets more and more desperate, he may try things that don’t seem rational.”

Mr Putin, whose assessments have been handed over to the White House, believes he is winning, according to a senior US official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the intelligence findings.

He certainly acts that way.

It is hardly surprising that Mr Putin has not backed down from economic sanctions and moves to cut his country off from the technology needed for new weapons and now some consumer goods. He often ignored Western sanctions, saying he could easily circumvent them.

“We can already say with confidence that this policy towards Russia has failed,” Putin said on Monday. “The strategy of an economic blitzkrieg has failed.”

He was immediately contradicted by his own central bank director, Elvira Nabiullina. “At the moment, maybe this problem is not felt so strongly yet, because there are still reserves in the economy,” she said. “But we see that the sanctions are getting tougher almost every day,” she continued, adding that “the period when the economy can live on reserves is over.”

Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

But this reality has apparently not been taken into account. In fact, Mr Putin has become more belligerent, focusing new fire on Mariupol as Russian forces seek to secure the entire Donbass region in the coming weeks. He insisted to visitors like Mr. Nehammer that he remained committed to achieving his goals.

While Russian casualties have been high and Mr. Putin’s ambitions have dwindled in Ukraine, US intelligence assessments have concluded that the Russian president believes the West’s efforts to punish him and contain power of Russia will crack over time. With help from China, India and other countries in Asia, he seems to believe he can avoid true isolation, just as he did after the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Now US officials are preparing for what looks increasingly like a long and trying confrontation, and they have faced repeated reminders from Mr Putin that the world is playing with nuclear power and should exercise caution. .

On Wednesday, after warning the Pentagon that a missile test was imminent – ​​a requirement of the New START treaty, which is still four years old – Mr Putin said the launch should “give food for thought to those who, in the heat of frenzied aggressive rhetoric, try to threaten our country.

In fact, the missile, if deployed, would only marginally increase Russia’s capabilities. But the launch was all about timing and symbolism: it came amid recent public warnings, including from Mr Burns, that there was a small but growing chance that Mr Putin would turn to attacks on the chemical weapon, or even a demonstration nuclear explosion.

If Mr. Putin turns his sights on the United States or its allies, the assumption has always been that Russia would use its cyberarsenal to retaliate against the effects of sanctions on the Russian economy. But eight weeks into the conflict, there have been no significant cyberattacks beyond the usual background noise of daily Russian cyberactivity on US networks, including ransomware attacks.

For six months, US officials have been warning financial firms, utilities and others to prepare, and there is growing evidence that US Cyber ​​Command and its equivalents in Britain and elsewhere have taken modest preventive measures against Russian intelligence agencies that are most active in cyberspace.

“If the Russians attack the West, NATO or the United States, it is a heavy decision that has dire consequences for both sides,” said Chris Inglis, the first national director of cyber in the United States on Wednesday. , at an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations.

Mr Inglis said government agencies and US companies had received many “strategic warnings” and were in a much better position to fend off or recover from such attacks than they would have been a year ago.

But despite all these threats, the US position has been to continue to increase the pressure on Mr. Putin – from sanctions to diplomatic isolation to supplying more powerful weapons to the Ukrainian military. “Ukraine has already won the battle for kyiv,” an administration official said. He added that the administration would “continue to provide Ukraine with an enormous amount of weapons, training and information” so that it “can continue to win.”

It’s far from clear that the Ukrainians will continue to win now that the fight has moved away from the urban streets of kyiv to the more familiar, flatter terrain of Donbass.

It’s also unclear exactly what would drive the administration away from the ever-increasing pressure on Russia.

The administration’s public position is that none of the sanctions are permanent and that they have been carefully crafted so that they can be used at any time as a source of leverage in a diplomatic resolution to the war. Presumably, this would force Russia to withdraw all of its forces from Ukraine and cease hostilities in a way that Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken calls “irreversible.”

At present, there is no prospect of this on the horizon. The attacks, an administration official noted recently, are more barbaric than ever and look set to escalate. But the effects of the sanctions also seem likely to get harsher.

Speaking at the Georgia Institute of Technology last week, Mr Burns, a former US ambassador to Moscow, said Mr Putin was “an apostle of revenge” who believes the West “took advantage of the historic moment of weakness of Russia in the 1990s. He added that Mr Putin’s small circle of advisers would be reluctant to “question his judgment or his stubborn, almost mystical belief that his destiny is to restore Russia’s sphere of influence”.

It means getting the West away from Russia’s borders. And that means halting NATO expansion, which could soon stretch to Finland and Sweden, where a senior US defense official was visiting this week to discuss possible alliance membership. western.

At the start of the war in Ukraine, Mr Putin publicly ordered his nuclear forces to be on heightened alert as a sign of Russia’s might, although Mr Burns said there was no was no evidence that the forces were actually on heightened alert.

Wednesday’s test of the Sarmat missile, in development for years, was another mixed signal. While Mr Putin has described it as “capable of overcoming all modern means of missile defence”, weapons experts say that is hyperbole. But the hyperbole is part of a pattern.

Cold War historians point out that little is new. George F. Kennan, the architect of the “strategy of containment”—the effort to limit Soviet power—always warned that containment had its limits. “His concern,” said Michael Beschloss, a presidential historian who has written extensively about this era, was that “if they become a pariah nation, you don’t have much influence over them.”

Over the next few months, this could also become President Biden’s concern.

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