The photo is historic: in the center, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskii, dressed in his classic military green T-shirt and serious air. To his right and left, US diplomacy and defense chiefs, Antony Blinken and Lloyd Austin, smiling and unbuttoned. Never since the end of the Cold War had two high-level US officials photographed with the leader of a country attacked by Russia. The message, without any ambiguity, is addressed to Vladimir Putin.
The gesture is not only symbolic, but coincides with a surge in announcements of US arms deliveries to Ukraine, with no more care for appearances. According to Washington, weapons are already starting to arrive and future operators are following training courses in neighboring countries.
But above all, a sentence pronounced by Austin after his visit to Kiev should be noted: “We want to see Russia weakened and unable to carry out the kind of action it has launched against Ukraine”. Such a stance was unthinkable until two months ago, when Joe Biden was still taking every precaution not to provoke Russia.
Undeniably, the Ukrainian successes that forced the Russian military to withdraw from the Kiev region made Americans bolder. The Buča massacre, the siege of Mariupol and Putin’s intransigence did the rest.
On April 22, responding to my questions on France Inter public radio, French President Emmanuel Macron admitted that his dialogue with Putin had been cut off due to lack of results. Macron said that the Russian president hasn’t said a word for weeks, but he nevertheless defended the idea of keeping a channel of discussion open in view of the day when a negotiation will be possible.
However, some Western countries now have another scenario in mind, that of a military defeat of Russia. Until a few weeks ago, no one would have bet on it. From this change comes the crescendo in the type of weapons sent, including from France, which has made it known that it has delivered its controversial 155 mm César cannon, with a range between 40 and 50 kilometers, to Ukraine.
But what is meant by the defeat of Russia? No one has really defined the contours of what would be considered a victory or a defeat. Zelenskii mentioned it when he hypothesized to regain the territories lost after February 24, leaving aside the two separatist republics and the Crimea annexed by Russia.
Now Austin’s sentence has upped the ante on Russia. The most surprising aspect is that this tightening of tone has been publicly manifested. It is clear that there is no longer any trace of the prudence shown in the past by Biden, who did not want to risk a confrontation with a nuclear power.
On 22 April Emmanuel Macron refused to evaluate a military solution, stressing that this “would mean making the explicit decision to unleash a new world war”.
Evidently it is necessary to standardize the Western commitment beyond the global agreement on the support guaranteed to Ukraine, and there is also a need for public explanations on the objectives and limits of participation in this conflict.
(Translation by Andrea Sparacino)