Which Biden administration official is leaking to the New York Times’ Tom Friedman that the White House doesn’t trust Volodymyr Zelensky?
The timing could not be worse. Dear reader: The Ukraine war is not over. And privately, U.S. officials are a lot more concerned about Ukraine’s leadership than they are letting on. There is deep mistrust between the White House and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky — considerably more than has been reported.
And there is funny business going on in Kyiv. On July 17, Zelensky fired his country’s prosecutor general and the leader of its domestic intelligence agency — the most significant shake-up in his government since the Russian invasion in February. It would be the equivalent of Biden firing Merrick Garland and Bill Burns on the same day. But I have still not seen any reporting that convincingly explains what that was all about. It is as if we don’t want to look too closely under the hood in Kyiv for fear of what corruption or antics we might see, when we have invested so much there. (More on the dangers of that another day.)
Your mileage may vary, but I see two possible motives here. Possibility one is that the Biden administration just wants the Ukraine-Russia war to end, and Zelensky isn’t playing ball, so the administration is getting ready to leave Zelensky hanging out to dry. Possibility two is that the administration foresees the Ukraine-Russia war going badly, and is preparing to use Zelensky as a scapegoat. They’re laying the groundwork to argue, “we did everything we could to help the Ukrainians defend themselves, but in the end, they were too incompetent, too corrupt, and too beset by infighting.”
Remember, on the campaign trail, Biden offered tough talk about Russia — “Putin knows that when I am president of the United States, his days of tyranny and trying to intimidate the United States and those in Eastern Europe, are over.”
But once Biden was in office, he emphasized that he wanted “a stable, predictable relationship” with Russia. “Throughout our long history of competition, our two countries have been able to find ways to manage tensions and to keep them from escalating out of control.” For a president who once sounded so bellicose towards Putin, Biden sure sought out new areas of agreement. Biden almost immediately accepted Putin’s offer to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty for five years, dropped U.S. opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline making Europe more dependent upon Russian energy exports, declined to pursue Putin’s personal wealth through sanctions, increased U.S. imports of Russian oil, and canceled the Keystone Pipeline. Biden did not arrive in the Oval Office itching for a fight with Russia.
Joe Biden now finds himself in a proxy war with Russia, and he never wanted to be in one. Before Russia invaded, he let slip that a “minor incursion” might not trigger a full U.S. or NATO response. Biden sees the mounting consequences of the Russian invasion – higher energy and food prices, a global famine, a potential cold winter for western Europe – and probably just wants to get out of this mess; if Ukraine has to make some territorial concessions, well, the U.S. was never that interested in who controlled the Donbas region anyway.