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Behind the headlines

Bumbling Biden is no match for Putin

Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Nobody knows whether Russia will actually invade Ukraine, says Dominic Green in the Daily Mail. But in a “mumbling, stumbling performance” at his first press conference since November, Joe Biden gave Vladimir Putin the green light to do so. If the Russians made only a “minor incursion”, he declared, America and her allies would “end up having a fight about what to do and not do”. In other words, Putin is “welcome to sink his teeth” into Ukraine – just as long as he doesn’t take too big a bite. This wasn’t an “unfortunate one-off”. Whenever the “gaffemeister-in-chief” pokes his head above the parapet, aides hang on his every ill-considered word, issuing “clarifications” of his addled thoughts in real time. Twice last year, Biden threatened to upset the “nuclear-tipped balance of power” in the Pacific by making unscripted commitments to defend Taiwan – in both cases leading to frantic backtracking by officials. The White House is in denial, but everyone can see the sad reality of a president in “obvious mental decline”.

Dopey as it was, Biden’s remark was “reality-based”, says The Washington Post in an editorial. European governments really are divided over how to respond if Putin invades Ukraine. There is no consensus on how much Russian aggression would, or should, trigger retaliation by the West. Countries are not even on the same page as to what the deterrent should be. At the “tough-minded end of the spectrum”, Britain is supplying antitank weapons, accompanied by military advisers, to Kiev. Germany, however, is deeply conflicted over a major natural gas pipeline linking it to Russia, and has refused to supply troops or kit. In the middle, France’s Emmanuel Macron “muddied diplomatic waters” by telling the European Parliament that the EU should “coordinate” with Biden, but also “conduct their own dialogue.” Putin has succeeded in sowing division between Nato members “without firing a shot”. Imagine how tempted he must be to see what an actual invasion would do.

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