Envoy says US seeks to ensure Putin suffers ‘strategic failure’
President Biden’s key envoy in Europe said the administration’s goal is to ensure that Russia suffers a “strategic failure” with its war in Ukraine but warned of a protracted conflict.
Michael Carpenter, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said his counterparts in Europe are committed to imposing costs on Russia that serve as warning to other would-be aggressive leaders.
“I think the discussions that I’ve been having with other ambassadors and permanent representatives here at the OSCE centers on the fact that this is a challenge to the world order, what Russia is doing, and that if Russia is not dealt a strategic failure, it will embolden other revanchist and aggressive countries to pursue similar aims,” said Carpenter, who served as an adviser to Biden when he was vice president.
“Future leaders are going to look back on this moment and realize what a horrendous mistake this was,” Carpenter said in a phone interview from Vienna.
Carpenter was confirmed as ambassador to the OSCE in November. The U.S. is one of 57 participant states in the OSCE, which also includes Russia.
The OSCE was established in the 1970s with the aim of preserving peace and resolving conflict on the continent — including political and military fights, but also economic, environmental, human rights and civil society issues.
The ambassador said that the U.S. and its allies “have to be prepared for a protracted war,” adding that it’s still unclear if the massive economic sanctions being imposed against Russia are “sufficient to change minds in the Kremlin.”
He also made it clear that the future of the war depends greatly on Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The calculation that’s made in one man’s head, and the calculations that that one leader has made over the course of last month, are — they don’t seem to be grounded in a realistic understanding of the situation,” he said of Putin.
Carpenter previously served as senior director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement at the University of Pennsylvania. He co-authored a 2017 article with Biden outlining a strategy to confront Putin’s aggression against the U.S., following Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
“He’s always been a straight shooter, and he has always understood very clearly the danger that Putin’s revisionist foreign policy represents to America’s foreign interest,” said John Herbst, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.
“Let’s just say he’s out on the point, when it comes to the administration, in identifying the challenges of Putin’s aggression.”
This includes the administration’s strategy of uniting democratic allies across Europe and Asia to increase the pressure of economic sanctions on Russian individuals and industries while further isolating the country from doing business with the global economy.
Administration officials are shooting down the idea that they are pushing for regime change in Moscow following Biden’s off-script remark during a speech in Warsaw, Poland, on Saturday that Putin “cannot remain in power.”
Biden on Monday sought to clear up the picture, saying he was expressing “moral outrage” but not signaling a policy change.
The gaffe triggered criticism of Biden and may make it more difficult for the West to negotiate an end to the war with Putin. It also allows Putin to argue the real aim of the U.S. is to remove him from power.
Carpenter, while outlining the global pressure campaign on Moscow, pointed to how an exodus of Russia’s educated, professional workforce is undermining the legitimacy of Putin’s rule.
Reports indicate that tens of thousands of Russians — described as young, professional and Western-facing — have fled the country over disgust with Putin’s war, an increasing crackdown on dissent and free speech and concern over survival under the economic sanctions.
The New York Times and other outlets have reported these Russian exiles have fled to Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Israel — countries that are still open to Russian flights and do not require a visa.
“As much as they love their country, they can no longer live in a country that is ruled by this sort of regime and so they are leaving,” Carpenter said, adding that the brain drain contributes to the overall aim of “strategic failure.”
Biden has ruled out preemptive measures against Russia to deter a chemical weapons attack, something that U.S. officials are worried about. Biden has said that there would be severe consequences to such an attack, while NATO officials have said there are preparations to “respond proportionately” if Russia uses chemical weapons or other kinds of “high-end systems against Ukraine.”
Carpenter reiterated the president’s warning of severe consequences but declined to provide details.
“I’m not going to go further than the president on this,” he said. “That is what he said and that is what he intends to do.”
Carpenter further emphasized Biden’s commitment not to insert American troops into the fighting but stressed commitments to providing Ukraine with military defensive materials and U.S. commitments to defending NATO territory.
“President Biden has been very clear that the U.S. is not going to get sucked into a third world war, we’re not going to engage in combat against the Russian Federation,” he said.