On the European continent, Russia has been massing military forces in Crimea since the beginning of March, putting itself in a position to intervene in the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine. Exchanges of artillery fire with Ukraine are growing in frequency and duration, but it is unclear what Russia’s intentions are. Perhaps the goal is to counter internal developments in Ukraine that go against Russian interests. Or, to respond to Washington’s increasingly hardline stance, illustrated by Biden’s use of the epithet "killer" to refer to Putin on March 16. Maybe it is to anticipate the sanctions ultimately announced by the US on April 15, which themselves were a response to Russian cyberattacks and Russian interference in the last American election. Or, perhaps ultimately to make it clear to America that it is not free of its former nemesis.
In his second phone conversation with Putin on April 13, Biden expressed concern over the situation in Ukraine and offered to hold a summit meeting with his Russian counterpart this fall, in a third country. The Kremlin is "studying the proposal".
One of the few bright spots in this otherwise bleak landscape is the indirect talks that have recently begun in Vienna between the United States and Iran, held under the auspices of the other parties to the Iran Nuclear Deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA). No one is expecting speedy results in this area, but the fact that negotiations are taking place at all gives hope for a modicum of stability in the Middle East. On April 11, however, Iran’s Natanz nuclear power plant - the flagship of the Iranian program -was hit by an act of sabotage generally attributed to Israel. In response, Iran announced that it would increase its uranium enrichment to 60%, bringing it even closer to producing atomic weapons, and adding yet another layer of difficulty to discussions in Vienna.
In other words, Israel is not shy about moving its pawns in a way that may be at odds with the agenda of the new American administration. In like manner, acting in contradiction with the goals of its partnership with Russia in Syria and Libya, Erdogan’s Turkey provided drones to Ukraine that on April 12 made their appearance over the Donbass. In a gesture typical of "connectivity wars", Moscow then interrupted air travel between Russia and Turkey under a health pretext that fooled no one. The "strategic partnership" between Kiev and Ankara began in 2019.
The United States and Europe
Is it not true, as some commentators argue, that part of the current tension is due to an overly aggressive stance on the part of the Biden administration?
The new US president, who many viewed as a centrist bowed by the weight of his years and anxious to continue America’s withdrawal from global affairs, has shown a surprising and remarkable dynamism on the international level, as well as on the domestic. Highly experienced, his administration expected - and no doubt prepared for - the inevitable tests from its opponents. Above all, he no doubt learned a valuable lesson from the Obama administration: not challenging China on human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, not pursuing necessary commercial, technological, and geopolitical rebalancing with China, turning a blind eye to the excesses of Putin’s regime - these would all only weaken America further, and embolden its rivals.
At the same time, the US administration seems to be carefully maintaining dialog between itself, Beijing, and Moscow. The April 15 measures announced by President Biden, combined with his offer for a meeting, are clearly calculated to signal that a return to more normal relations is possible between the US and Russia, and could be an alternative to the Russo-Chinese quasi-alliance.
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