So, the first big contest between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin is over. The Russia-Ukraine military tensions are getting diffused, as Moscow has started pulling back troops from the Ukraine border. We have clear results- Putin is the winner, whereas Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky have come out looking like losers.
There are two key takeaways. Firstly, that Russia can mobilise troops and ammunition along the Ukraine border very quickly and meet any eventuality without much difficulty. And secondly, Ukraine has been done in. Zelensky thought that Biden would rescue Ukraine, but that clearly wasn’t the case. Biden never went beyond mere lip service and if Ukraine crosses swords with Russia, the US would prefer Kyiv defending itself rather than jumping into the war.
Actually, there is a lot of symbolism and messaging behind how Putin has suddenly withdrawn troops from the Ukrainian border on his own terms. In a statement, the Russian Defence Ministry informed, “Military units and formations are currently marching to railway loading stations and airfields, and loading onto landing ships, railway platforms and military transport aircraft.”
Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu said, “The goals of the surprise check have been fully achieved. The troops demonstrated the ability to provide reliable defence of the country. In this regard, I have decided to complete the inspection activities in the Southern and Western military districts.”
So, the message is loud and clear- Russia isn’t withdrawing troops out of any compulsion. Putin mobilised troops for achieving a particular goal, and after achieving it, he decided to pull back the troops.
The purpose of the build-up of the troops was only to show that Russia is combat-ready. It has shown Moscow’s military capability to not only mobilise troops and equipment promptly but also to build up enough force on the border to weigh down Ukraine.
Meanwhile, we find that Ukraine and NATO are left saving their face after the Russian withdrawal. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said, “The reduction of troops on our border proportionally reduces tension”.
Meanwhile, a NATO official said any “de-escalation by Russia” would be important. The official added, “NATO remains vigilant and we will continue to closely monitor Russia’s unjustified military buildup in and around Ukraine.” The US also said that it was “looking for action” on the troop withdrawal.
So, Russia’s message has been communicated in very clear terms to the US, NATO and Ukraine. We say Russia is the big winner here because it was able to show that even if it mobilises troops along the Ukraine border, NATO and the US will not act physically to ramp up Ukraine’s military muscle.
Ukraine itself would have understood the perils of annoying Russia. Zelensky has learnt two very important lessons- one, Biden is only interested in throwing Ukraine under the bus for achieving his own geopolitical goals. And two, NATO powers in Europe led by France and Germany are simply too unwilling to put themselves in harm’s way by crossing swords with Russia.
We do not see Ukraine poking Moscow again. Kyiv is going to take the backseat now. It will understand how a Russia-Ukraine conflict means more harm than good for Ukraine itself. But by defeating Ukraine, Putin has actually humbled the US President in the first big US-Russia showdown after Biden took over.