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Biden says he won’t drop out as some Democrats question his ability

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WASHINGTON, July 8 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden refused to abandon his reelection campaign on Monday as he sought to stave off a possible revolt by fellow Democrats who worry the party could lose the White House and Congress in the Nov. 5 U.S. election.

Biden, 81, said any candidates who doubt his ability should challenge him at the Democratic National Convention in August – an effort that stands no chance of success unless he lets the delegates he won in primaries this year consider other candidates.

“The bottom line here is that I am not going anywhere,” Biden said in a phone call he placed to MSNBC’s Morning Joe program. He repeated that message to donors on a private call later in the day, according to a source on the call.

Separately, he told wavering Democratic lawmakers in a letter that they needed to close ranks behind his candidacy. Several have called for him to drop out, and more could do so now that lawmakers have returned to Washington after a break.
Biden faces a critical week as he tries to shore up a campaign that has been on defense since a shaky June 27 debate against Republican Donald Trump, which raised questions about his ability to do the job for another 4-1/2 years.
Though he has secured enough delegates to win the Democratic presidential nomination, some donors and lawmakers have called for him to step aside and let Vice President Kamala Harris or another candidate lead the ticket.

Several senior House Democrats called for Biden to drop out in a Sunday phone call, media outlets reported. Other lawmakers said they supported his candidacy.

“President Joe Biden is the nominee and has been selected by millions of voters across this country,” Representative Steven Horsford, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, said on social media. Black voters are a critical part of Democrats’ base of support.

In his letter to Democrats, Biden said he was aware of their concerns but said it was time to put them aside.

On MSNBC, Biden sounded a defiant note against wealthy donors who have called for him to drop out. “I don’t care what the millionaires think,” he said.

A growing number of Democratic lawmakers have voiced concern that his poor public approval ratings, plus concerns about his age and ability, could hurt the party’s prospects for retaining the Senate, which they control by a 51-49 majority, and winning back the House, where Republicans have a 219-213 majority.

If Republicans were to capture the White House and both houses of Congress, Trump would face few constraints on his ability to push through major policy changes.

Biden on Sunday made a series of campaign appearances in Pennsylvania, a battleground state that traditionally can decide an election. He was joined by Senator John Fetterman, a high-profile Democrat who has rejected calls for Biden to drop out.
He will have little time to campaign this week as he hosts a meeting of NATO member states, capped with a rare solo press conference on Thursday.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll last week found that one in three registered Democratic voters believed that Biden should quit the race, with 59% of respondents in the president’s party saying he is too old to work in government.

However, that poll also found that none of his possible replacements fared better in a matchup against Trump. The poll found Biden and Trump tied at 40% each.

Biden’s troubles appear to be increasing the number of races Democrats need to worry about in November.

Internal party polling shows that New Mexico and Virginia became more competitive following the debate, according to a source familiar with the findings, and the nonpartisan Center for Politics at the University of Virginia last week shifted its ratings on the states of Michigan and Minnesota to make each slightly more favorable for Republicans.

Together, those states will host a half-dozen of the most competitive House races.

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Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, Jeff Mason, Nandita Bose, Steve Holland, Doina Chiacu, Moira Warburton, Richard Cowan and Andrea Shalal; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Scott Malone and Howard Goller

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GOP Lawmaker Gets Mountain Of Mockery After Wild New Biden Conspiracy Theory

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A Republican lawmaker on Tuesday took the latest right-wing conspiracy theory about President Joe Biden to a fizzy new level by claiming he would be “jacked up” on soda for this week’s debate against Donald Trump.

“Trump’s team should not underestimate Joe Biden and his team’s ability to, y’know, whether they’re gonna jack him up on Mountain Dew or whatever it is,” Rep. Eric Burlison (R-Mo.) said on Fox Business. “Look, the State of the Union this year, he had a lot of energy for about an hour. Or an hour and a half.”

Rep. Eric Burlison (R-MO) speculates Biden could be jacked up on “Mountain Dew” to get through the presidential debate Thursday. pic.twitter.com/bvUo4eTx2l

— The Recount (@therecount) June 25, 2024

The Mountain Dew line may have been a reference to the Will Ferrell movie “Talladega Nights.”

However, Trump and his allies ― including multiple Fox News personalities ― have suggested Biden will take something, possibly caffeine, to get “jacked up” for the debate.

Trump has even called for a drug test before the event.

These claims come after Trump supporters have spent years attacking Biden’s cognition, while ignoring growing concerns that Trump’s own brainpower has diminished.

Burlison’s comments fell flat on X as critics took the fizz out of the attack:

It really wasn’t that long ago. I was out of Congress, and I’d go on @MariaBartiromo’s TV show regularly. We’d have normal conversations about policy. She was smart. Serious. And sane. She was the opposite of Hannity. And then Trump happened. Now it feels like a lifetime ago.👇 https://t.co/941RRPvqIt

— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) June 25, 2024

So after claiming “Sleepy Joe” Biden has dementia and putting out numerous AI videos, now Fox News and the GOP claims that the Wizard of Oz is in the White House basement cooking up a special “dosage” of something–which could be Mountain Dew–to “jack him up” on Thursday.

— Victoria Brownworth (@VABVOX) June 26, 2024

loons https://t.co/GDprgljKqT

— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) June 25, 2024

Mt Dew is an antidote to Dementia? Wow, who knew?

— Herr Studt #EverGrateful 🇩🇪 #BoilerUp 🇺🇦 #RDP (@Hoosier47906) June 25, 2024

If drinking caffeine made someone a brilliant and skilled orator, I want my Toastmasters membership money back. Clearly the 7 years I was a member I should have just stuck to caffeine instead of practice and supportive people, right? What a goon. https://t.co/O8aXcb2SUd

— Schu (@SquirrelyShoe) June 25, 2024

If Trump was good at debating it wouldn’t matter one way or the other. They know he isn’t and continue to make excuses as to why Trump will not do well. All of this looks bad for Trump, not Biden.

— 🌸 🐾 A to the Z 🐾🌸 (@A_tothe_Z_Amber) June 25, 2024

Yup. Go to any Open Mic Night at a comedy club. You’ll find wannabe comedians lined around the block for their chance to get jacked on Mountain Dew. Only the lucky few get their can of Dew, of course. But they’re hilarious! Ask Seinfield. He’d be nowhere today without the Dew. https://t.co/k4dQKYMQTv

— Rory Flynn (@rorycflynn808) June 25, 2024

It is evident that they do not anticipate the debate to go well for Trump.

— 𝐂𝐡𝐢𝐝𝐢 (@ChidiNwatu) June 25, 2024

I wonder if doctors have considered “jacking up” end-stage dementia patients on Mountain Dew.
Can you imagine what it would mean to those suffering and their families? A miracle drug! https://t.co/GT1ADnYSFg

— Shannon Ragland (@JuryReporter) June 25, 2024


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Крупномасштабная российская атака на украинские города

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Власти украинских городов сообщили о множестве погибших и пострадавших от массированных российских ракетных атак. В Киеве разрушена детская больница

Российская ракетная атака на столицу Украины – Киев – в понедельник стала одним из самых жестоких нападений за время двухлетнего полномасштабного вторжения Москвы, заявил мэр Киева Виталий Кличко.

«Это одно из самых страшных нападений. Вы можете видеть: это детская больница», — сказал он агентству Reuters, стоя возле сильно поврежденного здания.

Позднее было уточнено, что российская ракета взорвалась в помещении Национальной детской специализированной больницы «Охматдет»

По данным властей Киева, в результате нападения в городе погибли по меньшей мере семь человек.

В результате крупного ракетного удара России по украинскому городу Кривой Рог погибли по меньшей мере 10 человек, 31 горожанин ранен, сообщили местные власти.

По их словам, в городе зафиксировано несколько попаданий, в том числе повреждение административного здания промышленного предприятия.

По меньшей мере три человека погибли в городе Покровске на востоке Украины в результате массированного российского ракетного удара, сообщил губернатор региона.


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Is the risk of nuclear escalation rising between Russia and the West? | Rajan Menon

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Warnings about nuclear escalation in Ukraine are now being issued with increasing frequency and urgency, due to dramatic changes in policy by some of Kyiv’s main western supporters.

Some European countries, including Britain, France and Germany, and the United States, have changed course, giving Ukraine the green light to use their weapons against sites within Russia. The latter two limited their permission to Ukrainian strikes aimed at defending Kharkiv province – although, according one report, Joe Biden may even lift that geographic restriction, as well. These steps are responses to devastating Russian strikes on Ukraine, many from points beyond its reach.

These changes in western policy – plus the French president Emmanuel Macron’s plans to send French troops to train Ukrainian forces on site and even possibly to fight – have heightened anxieties that Russia may undertake nuclear escalation in retaliation. Vladimir Putin has alluded to this possibility since the day he invaded Ukraine, as have other senior Russian officials, most notably Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy chairman of the security council of Russia, who previously served as prime minister and president, and may hold the record within Russian officialdom for the frequency of nuclear threats.

The problem leaders and pundits face is that the risks of escalation are devilishly hard to pin down. It’s impossible to make predictions about nuclear escalation in the manner of weather forecasters predicting rain or tornadoes. Simply put, there’s no reliable procedure for making assessments nor any solid evidence on which to base them because there has never been a crisis in a world with multiple nuclear powers that spiraled and culminated in the use of nuclear weapons.

Therefore, analysts and commentators trying to determine the risk of Russian escalation put themselves in Putin’s place and try to see the world, and the Ukraine war more narrowly, as they imagine he sees it. Yet they cannot be sure that their attempts to reconstruct Putin’s views – based on the state of the battlefield and the changes occurring within it, including shifts in policy by Ukraine’s western supporters – correspond to his perceptions.

Even if that problem could somehow be overcome, there’s another. Putin’s views aren’t set in stone – no leader’s are – and can shift quickly based on his reassessments of how the war is going and what he needs to do to achieve victory. Outsiders’ conclusions about escalation lack any solid evidentiary foundation beyond what Putin and his associates say on the subject. Yes, analyzing the latest iteration (2020) of Russia’s nuclear doctrine can help, but nothing prevents Russian leaders from going off script. Besides, that document sets conditions, such as a nuclear attack on Russia or a threat to its existence, that aren’t pertinent to the war in Ukraine.

Some experts attribute an increase in Russian nuclear escalation threats to posturing and intimidation attempts, others see it as alarming

There’s also no surefire way to ascertain the value of the statements emanating from Moscow’s inner circle. Are they reliable guides to the Kremlin’s true beliefs and therefore useful in predicting what Putin may actually do? Or are they part of an information war designed to unnerve the west and influence its policies governing what Ukraine may do with Nato-supplied weapons?

Because we can’t know what Putin and his foreign policy and national security crew are discussing behind closed doors, there’s no way to know whether their public pronouncements are warnings to take seriously or scare tactics to ignore. The result? Some experts attribute an increase in Russian nuclear escalation threats to posturing and intimidation attempts, others see it as alarming.

In pondering the escalation problem, it helps to imagine how and where Putin might decide to use nuclear weapons. Surely, he wouldn’t rain them down on the United States or Europe; that would be suicidal. Perhaps he’d attack Ukraine – but he’d have to find a place that’s not teeming with Russians troops, lest they be killed as well, and in large numbers. He might choose western Ukraine, far from the frontlines, but launching a nuclear strike there for demonstrative effect could still kill many people, shock the global community and even provoke Nato retaliation.

Beyond that, Putin’s messaging to the global south and sympathetic westerners about the Ukraine war has painted the west as heedless of legitimate Russian security concerns, especially Kyiv’s aspirations to membership in Nato and its growing military ties with the west. Using nuclear weapons would be a bad way to win friends and influence people.

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More importantly, despite the “no limits friendship” between Beijing and Moscow, President Xi Jinping has made his opposition to the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine clear.

While it’s prudent to worry about escalation and to avoid steps that increase the risk based on the (unachievable) certainty that Moscow’s threats are mere noise, it’s also important to understand that the risks of escalation cut both ways. Putin is not immune from them.

Ultimately, there’s no escaping the fog of war. In such circumstances it’s essential to keep in mind the downsides of being wrong – which, when nuclear weapons are involved, are catastrophic – but without succumbing to paralyzing fear. Alas, that balance, while easy to prescribe, is hard to strike.

  • Rajan Menon is the director of the grand strategy program at Defense Priorities, a professor emeritus of international relations at the City College of New York and a senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies


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US investigating possible mysterious directed energy attack near White House

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Federal agencies are investigating at least two possible incidents on US soil, including one near the White House in November of last year, that appear similar to mysterious, invisible attacks that have led to debilitating symptoms for dozens of US personnel abroad.

Multiple sources familiar with the matter tell CNN that while the Pentagon and other agencies probing the matter have reached no clear conclusions on what happened, the fact that such an attack might have taken place so close to the White House is particularly alarming.

Defense officials briefed lawmakers on the Senate and House Armed Services Committees on the matter earlier this month, including on the incident near the White House. That incident, which occurred near the Ellipse, the large oval lawn on the south side of the White House, sickened one National Security Council official, according to multiple current and former US officials and sources familiar with the matter.

In a separate 2019 episode, a White House official reported a similar attack while walking her dog in a Virginia suburb just outside Washington, GQ reported last year.

Those sickened reported similar symptoms to CIA and State Department personnel impacted overseas, and officials quickly began to investigate the incident as a possible “Havana syndrome” attack. That name refers to unexplained symptoms that US personnel in Cuba began experiencing in late 2016 – a varying set of complaints that includes ear popping, vertigo, pounding headaches and nausea, sometimes accompanied by an unidentified “piercing directional noise.”

Rumors have long swirled around Washington about similar incidents within the United States. While the recent episodes around Washington appear similar to the previous apparent attacks affecting diplomats, CIA officers and other US personnel serving in Cuba, Russia and China, investigators have not determined whether the puzzling incidents at home are connected to those that have occurred abroad or who may be behind them, sources tell CNN.

Defense officials who briefed lawmakers said it was possible Russia was behind the attacks, but they did not have enough information to say for sure. Another former US official involved in the investigation at the time said China was also among the suspects.

The US has struggled to understand these attacks since 2016 and 2017, when diplomatic and intelligence personnel in Cuba first began reporting alarming symptoms that seemed to appear out of the blue. Intelligence and defense officials have been reluctant to speak publicly about the strange incidents, and some who were impacted have complained publicly that the CIA did not take the matter seriously enough, at least initially.

The attacks eventually led to a dramatic drawdown of staff at the outpost in Havana under the Trump administration. Personnel in Russia and China reported similar, unexplained incidents. Though there’s no consensus as to what causes the symptoms, one State Department-sponsored study found they likely were the result of microwave energy attacks.

Another mystery surrounding “Havana syndrome” is how the US government is confronting the problem. Among those investigating the mysterious pattern of possible attacks are the CIA, the State Department and the Defense Department.

Near the end of the Trump administration, the Pentagon sought to take the lead out of perceived frustration that other agencies were not doing enough to address the issue.

“I knew CIA and Department of State were not taking this sh*t seriously and we wanted to shame them into it by establishing our task force,” Chris Miller, who was acting defense secretary at the time, told CNN last week.

Pentagon leaders set up the task force to track reports of such symptoms hitting Defense Department personnel overseas, an effort that Miller said was intended in part as a “bureaucratic power play” to force CIA and State to take the problem more seriously in their own personnel.

Miller said he began to see reports of these mysterious symptoms as a higher priority in December, after interviewing an alleged victim with extensive combat experience.

“When this officer came in and I knew his background and he explained in an extraordinarily detailed but more military style that I could understand, I was like this is actually for real,” Miller said. “This kid had been in combat a bunch and he knew.”

The CIA began its task force in December 2020, and expanded its efforts under new Director William Burns, who vowed during his confirmation hearings to review the evidence on the alleged attacks on CIA personnel overseas, which have long been publicly reported. The State Department named a senior official to lead the department’s response to the “Havana syndrome” attacks in March.

The Defense Department’s effort is thought to be among the most robust, potentially explaining why a defense official, rather than the intelligence community or the FBI, briefed lawmakers on the incident at the Ellipse, even though it took place on US soil.

Miller tapped Griffin Decker, a career civil servant from US Special Operations Command, to run the effort. Decker would track and verify reports in the military of what by then had become known informally as “Havana syndrome.” Miller says Griffin would report a new case to him “every couple of weeks,” although he cautioned that they were on the lookout for false reporting, psychosomatic episodes or hypochondria. Some of the cases they tracked included the children and dependents of Defense Department personnel overseas, Miller said.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines was asked about CNN’s reporting by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Thursday. Haines did not discuss the specifics but called the issue of the mysterious attacks “critically important” and added, “across the intelligence community, frankly, leaders are focused on this issue.”

Haines also defended the classification of information related to the attacks but said members of Congress “should certainly have access to the classified information.”

A White House spokesperson said in a statement, “The White House is working closely with departments and agencies to address unexplained health incidents and ensure the safety and security of Americans serving around the world. Given that we are still evaluating reported incidents and that we need to protect the privacy of individuals reporting incidents, we cannot provide or confirm specific details at this time.”

Decker and Jennifer Walsh, who was the acting under secretary of defense for policy, briefed House and Senate lawmakers over the last two weeks on the possible attacks, two sources familiar with the briefings told CNN. Politico first reported on the committee briefings.

In one incident that was investigated, Marines on a remote base in Syria developed flu-like symptoms shortly after a Russian helicopter flew over the base – raising immediate concerns that it could be one of these strange attacks. But “it was quickly traced, where they had bad food and where no one else on the base had the same symptoms,” said one former US official with knowledge of the incident. It was also determined by a defense physician that the symptoms had begun prior to the Russia patrol, a defense official told CNN.

The Syria episode highlights the difficulties that US officials face in trying to pin down what is and isn’t an attack. The symptoms often vary, and officials still have no clear sense of how the unknown adversary is doing what it’s doing. At least one former US official with knowledge of the matter said that investigators still haven’t completely ruled out the possibility that the symptoms are caused by some kind of naturally occurring phenomenon rather than a weapon.

Another US defense official confirmed that the Pentagon’s investigation is ongoing. The official would offer no details, but said, “We would not still be looking at this if we didn’t have equities in it.”

“There is nothing that the Secretary of Defense takes more seriously that the safety, health and welfare of our personnel serving around the globe in defense of our values and freedoms,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement. “Any concerns on issues that call that into question are thoroughly reviewed, and the appropriate actions are taken to mitigate risks to our personnel.”

A March report from the National Academy of Sciences found that “directed, pulsed radiofrequency energy” was the most likely cause of the strange set of symptoms. While the report was carefully written not to overstate its findings, it offered some of the clearest public evidence to date that the incidents could be attacks, attributing the afflictions to “pulsed” or “directed” energy.

Some personnel have been seriously injured from the alleged attacks, with at least one career CIA officer forced to retire last year and diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury.

This story has been updated with comments from the White House and also the Director of National Intelligence.


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The Coming Russian Escalation With the West

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To judge from the editorial pages and Capitol Hill currents that both shape and reflect Washington’s perceptions of the world, the doomsayers sounding alarms over the risk of direct military conflict between the U.S. and Russia over Ukraine have been proved wrong. Despite many Russian warnings and much nuclear saber-rattling, the United States has managed to supply advanced artillery systems, tanks, fighter aircraft, and extended-range missiles to Ukraine without an existential contest—or even significant Russian retaliation.

For Washington’s hawkish chorus, the benefits of providing increasingly greater lethality to Ukraine outweigh the dangers of provoking a direct Russian attack on the West. They insist that the U.S. not allow fears of an unlikely Armageddon to block much-needed aid for Ukraine’s defense, particularly now that battlefield momentum has swung toward Russia. Hence the White House’s recent decision to green-light Ukraine’s use of American weapons to strike into internationally recognized Russian territory and its reported deliberations over putting American military contractors on the ground in Ukraine.

Read More: Inside Ukraine’s Plan to Arm Itself

There are several problems with this reasoning. The first is that it treats Russia’s redlines—limits that if crossed, will provoke retaliation against the U.S. or NATO—as fixed rather than moveable. In fact, where they are drawn depends on one man, Vladimir Putin. His judgments about what Russia should tolerate can vary according to his perceptions of battlefield dynamics, Western intentions, sentiment inside Russia, and likely reactions in the rest of the world.

It is true that Putin has proved quite reluctant to strike directly at the West in response to its military aid for Ukraine. But what Putin can live with today may become a casus belli tomorrow. The world will only know where his red lines are actually drawn once they have been crossed and the U.S. finds itself having to respond to Russian retaliation.

The second problem is that by focusing narrowly on how Moscow might react to each individual bit of American assistance to Ukraine, this approach underestimates the cumulative impact on Putin and the Kremlin’s calculations. Russian experts have become convinced that the U.S. has lost its fear of nuclear war, a fear they regard as having been central to stability for most of the Cold War, when it dissuaded both superpowers from taking actions that might threaten the other’s core interests.  

A key question now being debated within Russia’s foreign policy elite is how to restore America’s fear of nuclear escalation while avoiding a direct military clash that might spin out of control. Some Moscow hardliners advocate using tactical nuclear weapons against wartime targets to shock the West into sobriety. More moderate experts have floated the idea of a nuclear bomb demonstration test, hoping that televised images of the signature mushroom cloud would awaken Western publics to the dangers of military confrontation. Others call for a strike on a U.S. satellite involved in providing targeting information to Ukraine or for downing an American Global Hawk reconnaissance drone monitoring Ukraine from airspace over the Black Sea. Any one of these steps could lead to an alarming crisis between Washington and Moscow.

Underlying these internal Russian debates is a widespread consensus that unless the Kremlin draws a hard line soon, the U.S. and its NATO allies will only add more capable weapons to Ukraine’s arsenal that eventually threatens Moscow’s ability to detect and respond to strikes on its nuclear forces. Even just the perception of growing Western involvement in Ukraine could provoke a dangerous Russian reaction.

These concerns undoubtedly played a part in Putin’s decision to visit North Korea and resurrect the mutual defense treaty that was in force from 1962 until the Soviet Union’s demise. “They supply weapons to Ukraine, saying: We are not in control here, so the way Ukraine uses them is none of our business. Why cannot we adopt the same position and say that we supply something to somebody but have no control over what happens afterwards? Let them think about it,” Putin told journalists after the trip.

Last week, following a Ukrainian strike on the Crimean port of Sevastopol that resulted in American-supplied cluster munitions killing at least five Russian beachgoers and wounding more than 100, Russian officials insisted that such an attack was only possible with U.S. satellite guidance aiding Ukraine. The Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. ambassador in Moscow to charge formally that the U.S. “has become a party to the conflict,” vowing that “retaliatory measures will definitely follow.” The Kremlin spokesperson announced that “the involvement of the United States, the direct involvement, as a result of which Russian civilians are killed, cannot be without consequences.”

Are the Russians bluffing, or are they approaching a point where they fear the consequences of not drawing a hard line outweighs the dangers of precipitating a direct military confrontation? To argue that we cannot know, and therefore should proceed with deploying American military contractors or French trainers in Ukraine until the Russians’ actions match their bellicose words, is to ignore the very real problems we would face in managing a bilateral crisis.  

Unlike in 1962, when President John F. Kennedy and his Russian counterpart Nikita Khrushchev famously went “eyeball to eyeball” during the Cuban missile crisis, neither Washington nor Moscow is well positioned to cope with a similarly alarming prospect today. At the time, the Soviet ambassador was a regular guest in the Oval Office and could conduct a backchannel dialogue with Bobby Kennedy beyond the gaze of internet sleuths and cable television. Today, Russia’s ambassador in Washington is a tightly monitored pariah. Crisis diplomacy would require intense engagement between a contemptuous Putin and an aging Biden, already burdened with containing a crisis in Gaza and conducting an election campaign whose dynamics discourage any search for compromise with Russia. Levels of mutual U.S.-Russian distrust have gone off the charts. Under the circumstances, mistakes and misperception could prove fatal even if—as is likely—neither side desires a confrontation.

Pivotal moments in history often become clear only in hindsight, after a series of developments produce a definitive outcome. Discerning such turning points while events are in motion, and we still have some ability to affect their course, can be maddeningly difficult. We may well be stumbling toward such a moment today.


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Biden shows growing appetite to cross Putin’s red lines

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President Biden’s decision last month to help Ukraine obtain F-16 fighter jets marked another crossing of a Russian red line that Vladimir Putin has said would transform the war and draw Washington and Moscow into direct conflict.

Despite the Russian leader’s apocalyptic warnings, the United States has gradually agreed to expand Ukraine’s arsenal with Javelin and Stinger missiles, HIMARS rocket launchers, advanced missile defense systems, drones, helicopters, M1 Abrams tanks and, soon, fourth-generation fighter jets.

A key reason for brushing aside Putin’s threats, U.S. officials say, is a dynamic that has held since the opening days of the war: Russia’s president has not followed through on promises to punish the West for providing weapons to Ukraine. His bluffing has given U.S. and European leaders some confidence they can continue doing so without severe consequences — but to what extent remains one of the conflict’s most dangerous uncertainties.

“Russia has devalued its red lines so many times by saying certain things would be unacceptable and then doing nothing when they happen,” said Maxim Samorukov, a Russia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The problem is that we don’t know the actual red line. It’s in one person’s head, and it can change from one day to the next.”

U.S. officials say managing the risk of escalation remains one of the most difficult aspects of the war for Biden and his foreign policy advisers. When deciding what new weapons systems to provide Ukraine, they focus on four key factors, officials said.

“Do they need it? Can they use it? Do we have it? What is the Russian response going to be?” said a senior State Department official. Like others interviewed for this report, this person spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations.

The official said Russia’s reluctance to retaliate has influenced the risk calculus of Secretary of State Antony Blinken, a key Biden confidant who has been an influential voice encouraging the administration and U.S. allies to do more to support Ukraine.

“You factor that in your decision-making. We did this — there was no escalation or response — can we do the next thing? We’re constantly weighing those factors, and it becomes the hardest judgment call we have to make,” said the official.

Like Blinken, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan also has viewed the benefits of supplying more lethal weaponry to Ukraine as outweighing the risks of escalation and has worked extensively with European allies on providing F-16s to Ukraine, said a White House official.

The administration has juggled these concerns amid a clamor from Ukrainians and hawks in Congress frustrated by the incremental approach and eager for Biden to move faster in sending more advanced equipment to the battlefield amid Russia’s brutal onslaught.

At the outset of Russia’s invasion in February last year, Putin warned that any country that tried to “impede” his forces “must know that the Russian response will be immediate and lead to consequences you have never seen in history.”

As the war has dragged on, the warnings from Putin and his subordinates have only become more bombastic, threatening a nuclear holocaust if Russia faced setbacks on the battlefield.

“If Russia feels its territorial integrity is threatened, we will use all defense methods at our disposal, and this is not a bluff,” Putin said last September.

Dmitry Medvedev, who serves as deputy chairman of Putin’s powerful security council, was more explicit in January. “The defeat of a nuclear power in a conventional war may trigger a nuclear war,” he said.

While Putin has challenged the United States — suspending participation in a critical arms control treaty, imprisoning Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and overseeing a court’s decision to sentence WNBA star Brittney Griner to a nine-year prison term before insisting on a one-for-one trade for a notorious arms merchant — he has not lashed out militarily at Washington or its allies.

But Western officials are cognizant that that doesn’t mean he never will — particularly as the conflict escalates.

On Tuesday, drones struck affluent districts of Moscow in what one Russian politician called the worst attack on the capital since World War II. Ukraine has denied involvement in such strikes within the Russian mainland, and the Biden administration said it neither enables nor encourages Ukrainian attacks inside Russia. But Kyiv appears content with Russian civilians experiencing the fears that Ukrainians have lived with for more than a year as their population centers have come under relentless Russian missile and drone attacks.

A possible explanation for Putin’s reluctance to hit the West is the diminished state of Russia’s military, according to U.S. officials.

“It would not seem to be in their interest to get into a direct confrontation with NATO right now,” said the senior U.S. official. “They are not well positioned to do so.”

Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, estimated in a recent interview with Foreign Affairs that Russia has suffered as many as 250,000 dead and wounded since its full-scale invasion began — staggering losses for any conflict.

Putin has replaced them on the battlefield, Milley said, but with reservists who are “poorly led, not well trained, poorly equipped, not well sustained.”

As Russian fatalities have mounted, Putin has recalibrated his war aims, from seizing control of Kyiv and decapitating the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to controlling and annexing a swath of territory across eastern and southern Ukraine.

Still, U.S. officials remain wary that Russia, home to the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, could escalate in Ukraine or elsewhere. Last year, amid heightened concerns that Russia was considering deploying a nuclear weapon, senior State Department officials privately warned Moscow about the consequences of doing so — messages that were eventually followed by public warnings.

As the Biden administration has weighed such risks, Ukrainian leaders, including Zelensky, have expressed their consternation publicly. The perceived dithering and delay, they have claimed, has prolonged the bloodshed by inhibiting Ukraine’s ability to overwhelm the Russian military and force an end to the war.

Republican hawks in Congress, meanwhile, have said the threat of Russian escalation should not even be a consideration. Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has called the administration “cowardly” for not sending tactical missile systems known as ATACMS. The weapons, with a range up to about 190 miles, have been high on Ukraine’s wish list for almost the entirety of the war.

“Every time the administration has delayed sending Ukraine a critical weapon system, from Stingers to HIMARS to Bradleys, over fears of Russian escalation, they have been proven completely and utterly wrong,” he said earlier this year.

Britain approved the transfer of weapons with a similar range, air-launched cruise missiles known as Storm Shadows, in early May.

Inside the Biden administration, the Pentagon is considered more cautious than the White House or State Department about sending more sophisticated weaponry to Ukraine, but officials there deny that fear of escalation plays any role in their calculations.

The Defense Department has focused on what Ukraine needs at any given moment, said a senior Pentagon official who defended its role and counsel as Kyiv’s ambitious requests throughout the war have been slow-rolled or turned down. The official cited how the United States has evolved from providing anti-armor missiles such as the Javelin, when it was clear columns of Russian military vehicles would invade, to sending artillery as the war shifted into a bloody duel waged from trenches — and to more recent Western commitments of tanks and F-16 fighter jets.

Before almost any Western arms or equipment can be transferred to the units that will use them, Ukrainian forces first must learn how to operate and maintain what they receive, this person said, praising “how amazing” they have been at “standing up what is now a very sophisticated maintenance and sustainment system that did not exist at the beginning of the war.”

In one example, Ukrainian officials for months last year requested the billion-dollar Patriot air defense missile system. U.S. officials held back, citing concerns about training, maintenance and cost, but ultimately relented in December after repeated Russian missile barrages targeted Ukrainian civilian infrastructure. One such system donated by the West was damaged after a Russian strike in mid-May, requiring U.S. assistance to repair.

The senior defense official disputed any suggestion that other U.S. agencies are looking to do more to help Ukraine than the Pentagon is. “I think the folks in the Defense Department have a unique understanding of what is practically possible, and how to best support the Ukrainian armed forces in a way that supports them at any given moment on the battlefield,” the official said.

Unquestionably, the Biden administration’s willingness to cross Putin’s red lines has bolstered Ukraine’s ability to defend itself and recapture territory in the east and south. What remains to be seen, however, is whether Putin will continue to allow the West to defy his threats without consequence.

“Certain red lines exist,” said Alexander Gabuev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center in Berlin, “… but because we don’t have a way to know for sure what they are, that’s what creates risk.”


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