International politics can often feel like a captivating drama, filled with plot twists and devious strategies. In the latest episode, we witness a game of deception orchestrated by Russian President Vladimir Putin, aimed at outmaneuvering President Joe Biden and deterring the United States from engaging directly against Russia in Ukraine. Deception has long been a weapon of choice in the game of international politics. Throughout history, leaders and strategists have employed various tactics to mislead their adversaries, altering their decisions and ultimately shaping the course of events.
First, we can look back at one of the most successful deception operations during World War II. Operation Fortitude, executed by the Allies in the lead-up to the Normandy landings, serves as a prime example. The goal was to convince Adolf Hitler and the German High Command that the main Allied invasion would occur at Calais, not Normandy. The Allies created an elaborate ruse, including a fictitious army led by General George S. Patton, deceptive radio traffic, fabricated orders, and even dummy equipment to give the impression of massing forces. The campaign aimed to sow confusion and convince Hitler that any potential invasion of Normandy was a diversionary tactic. It successfully diverted German forces and played a crucial role in ensuring the success of the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944.
Fast forward to the present, and claims of a similar deception campaign orchestrated by Vladimir Putin's Russia have emerged—the objective: to dissuade President Joe Biden from significantly bolstering support for Ukraine. The former KGB officer has been utilizing the fear factor associated with nuclear weapons to create uncertainty and unease. By effectively rattling his nuclear saber, Putin aims to dissuade Biden from taking more forceful actions to support Ukraine.
Biden's belief in Putin's deception campaign, particularly the fear of Russia's potential use of nuclear weapons, has seemingly influenced the hesitancy of both the United States and NATO in providing significant military support to Ukraine. The specter of nuclear conflict creates a precarious situation that decision-makers are reluctant to escalate. However, this hesitancy favors Russia, allowing them to maintain the upper hand in the conflict. The success of Putin's deception campaign can already be seen as hindering Ukraine's ability to resist Russian aggression. Biden’s gradual approach to supplying weapons and training to Ukraine’s military has enabled Russia to maintain control over regions it seized in Donbas and Crimea.
The lack of robust support from the United States and NATO may weaken Ukraine's position, emboldening Russia to further assert its influence in the region. This author argues that the US and its NATO partners should be much more aggressive in aiding Ukraine and be bold enough to call Putin’s nuclear bluff. The current stalemate on the ground can be broken by leveling the playing field. Biden and the leaders of the other NATO countries should provide air support, both close air and fighter jets. Given the time to train and get Ukraine pilots in the battle, the US and NATO allies must directly participate against Russian forces. Putin must be made to understand that using a nuclear weapon would trigger an overwhelming response from the West against Russia. As the failed Prigozhin mutiny demonstrated, Putin would likely back down if faced with a credible direct threat. While Biden continues to play Putin’s deception game, the war will drag on with more and more lives lost. As Putin believes, the result will be a faltering of Western support for Ukraine, thereby handing Putin victory.
Kenneth Maher earned an M.A. in Russian Area Studies and served as a U.S. Army military intelligence officer. He is also the author of "Wind of Change: An American Journey in Post-Soviet Russia." To learn more, follow Kenneth's blog at www.kennethmaherauthorbooks.com.