President Joe Biden’s diplomatic strategy in Russia has been roundly criticized in recent days following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s launch of a full-scale invasion of Ukraine over and against the U.S. president’s wishes.
In the months preceding the invasion, Biden resolved to appeal to Putin’s reason, urging him to “return to diplomacy” for the sake of Russia’s “credibility worldwide.” The strategy failed. Under threat of certain sanctions, but never military resistance, Putin went ahead with the unprovoked assault.
But Biden’s mismanagement of the situation may have been worse than previously understood. According to an eye-opening new report from the New York Times published Friday, the Biden administration since late last year endeavored to enlist Chinese assistance, only to have its plan turned on its head.
What are the details?
Unnamed U.S. officials told the Times that over the past three months, senior administration officials arranged urgent meetings with Beijing during which they shared intelligence showing Russia’s troop build-up on the Ukraine border in hopes that China would step in and tell Russia not to invade.
Each time, the officials said the Chinese rebuffed the Americans, playing coy about Russia’s intentions — and at least one time, the Chinese turned around to hand over the intelligence to Moscow.
“After one diplomatic exchange in December, U.S. officials got intelligence showing Beijing had shared the information with Moscow, telling the Russians that the United States was trying to sow discord — and that China would not try to impede Russian plans and actions,” the Times reported.
The account indicates that the Biden administration began its farfetched, if not foolhardy, Chinese outreach following a video summit held between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Nov.15. Over the course of the next few months, administration officials engaged China with similar diplomatic efforts as they did with Russia.
They warned that economic sanctions on Russia could hurt China, as well, and argued that because China was widely seen as a partner to Russia, its global image would suffer if it stood idly by while Russia invaded, the Times reported.
“But their entreaties went nowhere,” the paper added.
The account raises concerns about the White House’s naivety regarding Russia and China, the U.S.’s two strongest adversarial powers.
In a statement to the Times, Chinese Embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu said, “For some time, China has actively promoted the political settlement process of the Ukraine issue.”
Biden so far has been somewhat tepid in his response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, though that is not an assessment the president would give himself. In a press conference Thursday, Biden announced a slew of new sanctions on Russia that he said would be “devastating.”
But when reporters questioned whether more could be done — such as personally sanctioning Putin and booting Russia from SWIFT, an international banking system — Biden suggested that the U.S. wait “another month or so” to see if the current sanctions are “working.”
Critics slammed the president for not meeting the urgency of the moment. The pressure may have worked because, on Friday, Biden reversed course on one of those items.
CNN reported that the U.S. would move quickly to freeze assets belonging to Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Earlier in the day, the European Union and U.K. also announced sanctions against the two officials.