President Vladimir Putin is surely amused, Chancellor Angela Merkel is surely astonished, and President Volodymyr Zelensky is surely apoplectic. President Joe Biden?
He has channeled the Hindenburg airship in his newly announced Nord Stream 2 deal with Germany. Figuratively and literally sustained by hot air, this transatlantic arrangement is doomed to tragic failure. He has presented an extraordinary gift to Russia.
Announcing the agreement on Wednesday, the Biden administration tried to paint its strategic cancer with gold. Testifying before the Senate, State Department Undersecretary Victoria Nuland claimed that in the event of Russian coercion, "Germany will take actions at the national level and will push for measures at the European level."
Ah, yes, undefined "measures," diplomatic code for "don't be optimistic." Nuland said the United States and Germany would also "push for an extension" to Russia's current agreement with Ukraine, which ends in 2024, to transit gas through the latter's territory. That transit provides Ukraine with more than $2.5 billion in annual fees. Big sums for a relatively poor nation.
But the Biden administration hasn't simply accepted the pipeline. It has failed to extract the only moderately credible means of deterring Russian coercion after the pipeline's completion.
Its excuse for that failure is quite astonishing. As the Wall Street Journal notes, "German officials said they rejected a U.S. demand to include a so-called kill switch clause in the pipeline’s operating rules."
The Journal says German officials argued a kill switch might lead to a lawsuit. Apparently, this was enough to see the U.S. negotiators buckle — a buckling that doesn't exactly lend confidence U.S. negotiators will deal effectively with Russian nuclear arms negotiators when they meet at the end of the month.
Also on Wednesday, a senior State Department official told reporters the deal is good because Germany will give Ukraine $250 million. It should be noted this is 10% of the $2.5 billion transit fees Ukraine currently receives.
The deal is also good, the official told reporters, because Germany will use all its "leverage" to help Ukraine negotiate with Russia to extend the 2024 transit rights. No credible answer was given as to why Russia would ever agree to such a deal.
Considering Germany allows Russia's GRU intelligence service (a service currently engaged in microwave attacks on American diplomats) to operate chemical weapons facilities openly on its soil, I'm not overly confident German commitments to use "leverage" against Russia are worth anything.
The State Department's excuse for this political Hindenburg?
The pipeline is 95% complete, so stopping it is impossible. This, as a majority of Democratic and Republican senators will attest, is simply untrue. The U.S. could still kill Nord Stream 2 by sanctioning every element of its apparatus.
Making matters worse, as Politico reports, the Biden administration has pressured Ukraine to accept the deal without public complaint. This leaves Kyiv in a rather unenviable position.
The Biden administration has actively failed to contest Russian territorial claims related to Ukraine and has now pulled a critical financial rug from out under Ukraine's feet. It has ignored some of our greatest NATO allies, such as the Baltics and Poland (which spend 2% of their gross domestic product on defense), to support the immorality of one of our most unreliable NATO allies.
So ends Ukrainian President Zelensky's rather tragic experience with two American presidents. First, President Donald Trump extorted him. Now, Biden has abandoned him.
Zelensky's unfortunate fate reminds me of a wonderful quote from John le Carré's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: "And now it was pouring with rain, Smiley was soaked to the skin, and God as a punishment had removed all taxis from the face of London."
KGB Lieutenant Colonel Putin will surely revel in such a cold abandonment. As his forces lurk on Ukraine's borders, Ukraine has learned it has few true friends.