By July the Russians had stated their policy in dealing with the West and Putin’s aspiration for the new Rus led Slavic empire.
The limited war in the Black Sea was became a backdrop to Sea Breeze 2021.
And then we enter the period from the late summer through the Fall and what the Biden Administration did which contributed to Putin’s risk calculations which would lead to the invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
To date, Putin’s risk calculations have been reduced to nibbles and chomps into the European territorial landscape, but by the time he addressed Ukraine again he had ramped up his ambitions and determined the risks of invasion were manageable.
The actions of the Biden Administration in the late summer to Fall were important inputs to his risk calculus.
The most important of which clearly was the unilateral decision by President Biden to pull the plug on a NATO mission but there is more than simply this and I will address what else transpired in the Biden Administration’s Fall activities which fed into Putin calculating that the time was right for an invasion of Ukraine.
We have written extensively about what I call the blitzkrieg withdrawal strategy in Afghanistan, but in one swoop the credibility of U.S. intelligence and political military leadership hit the same level as the rouble after the sanctions imposed in March 2022 against the Russians.
We were told by the Administration that this decision would better prepare us for dealing with the bigger foreign policy challenges, although in reality it only accelerated them
In a policy world which is measured in a CNN day, the events of July, August and September 2021 are too far ago to remember but for any one doing a strategic timeline on the war. they are much more than a CNN day.
Following the Blitzkrieg withdrawal, the Russians moved into the Central Asian states and re-engaged in the wake of the American pull out, not withdrawal. but pull out.
For someone interested in shaping a new Russian empire, the Central Asian state re-opening facilitated by the Biden Administration was a step which accelerated the Putin imperial apetitie.
Richard Weitz wrote a wide range of articles during the U.S. engagement in Central Asia associated with the Afghan operations, and highlighted how Western engagement was being facilitated.
This phase of history was ended by the blitzkrieg withdrawal and continuing to believe that Putin was a best the tsar of a decaying state, a view often voiced by members of the Biden Adminsitration.
Who can forget the wonderful performance by then Secretary of State John Kerry that Russia was behaving like a 19th century power by its seizure of Crimea. Of course, later now Climate Czar in the Biden Administration, Kerry was very concerned about the climate change impacts of the invasion.
I will close this piece by providing the front end of the piece by James Durso entitled “Central Asia on the Front Lines,” which clearly captures a key aftermath of the Blitzkrieg withdrawal which fed into the Kremlin’s calculations about U.S. resolve in the “build back better” era.
The U.S. retreat from Afghanistan puts Central Asia on the front lines against the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
The Central Asian republics – old cultures but young countries – are still competing the process of state formation started thirty years ago with the fall of the Soviet Union, so this is a challenging time to be on the doorstep of a threatening Afghanistan.
Central Asia aided the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) during the war in Afghanistan by providing access to airfields (Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan), allowing aircraft overflights, and facilitating the resupply of NATO via the Northern Distribution Network (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan).
Among the states on Afghanistan’s border, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan previously met Taliban delegations, recognizing the movement would be a force regardless of the final outcome in Afghanistan. This was in line with Turkmenistan’s principle of “positive neutrality” and, despite its aversion to Islamists, the government hosted a Taliban delegation in July. Uzbekistan hosted a Taliban delegation in 2018 and encouraged peace talks between the Taliban and the Kabul government, continuing the country’s pragmatic approach to Afghanistan. (The former president, Islam Karimov, said “Tashkent is ready to recognize any government in Afghanistan, even if it is the Taliban government. It doesn’t matter whether we like that government or not.”) Tajikistan will likely continue its policy of opposition to the Taliban and has said it will not recognize a Taliban government that does not include all the country’s ethnic groups.
These differences may make it hard to forge a common regional approach to Afghanistan that must also include Kazakhstan, the largest economy and Uzbekistan’s rival for regional leadership, and Kyrgyzstan. Complicating that process is that Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russia-led security alliance.
The rapid collapse of the U.S. client government in Kabul caught the local capitals – and Washington – by surprise. They had earlier told the U.S. they would not welcome thousands of Afghan refugees, likely because they remember it took Washington up to eight years to find new homes for Uighur detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp after they were declared “No longer enemy combatants.” Regardless, refugees have fled to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan which are accepting them only if they promptly continue onwards to places of permanent resettlement.
The Central Asian capitals want a prompt resolution of the refugee situation and the recognition of a government in Kabul so they can focus on the regional connectivity projects they need to grow and diversify their economies.
They will look over their shoulder at Moscow and Beijing, but their policy priority will be the economy, which may give less weight to what Washington and Brussels want, especially as Washington vacated the area so fast it left several planeloads of its citizens stranded in Afghanistan. Though the long-term consideration is economic, in the near term the Central Asians will have to shape the security environment as a prelude to future economic growth.
Washington ‘s distance from the region, which previously allowed the U.S. to be the regional balancer as it had no local territorial aspirations, will now work against it as it has nothing at risk – unlike neighboring Russia, as Moscow will remind local capitals.
The readiness of the U.S. to walk away from an investment of $2.3 trillion and over 2,300 deaths – unimaginable sums – will cause a loss of confidence in U.S. assurances of fidelity as its local investment relatively negligible.
Instead, Russia’s menacing embrace of the locals will be rebranded to “standing shoulder to shoulder against instability and extremism” (don’t call it a “buffer zone!”), and an opportunity to draw all five countries into the CSTO and the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).
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