Biden's olive branch: We're open to diplomacy but we won't sacrifice Ukraine's sovereignty; Update: Russia not pulling back?

Well, of course we’re open to diplomacy. There’s no military option here for the United States. It’s jaw-jaw with Russia so long as they’re willing, not war-war.

This morning they said they’re willing. But meanwhile:

A series of cyberattacks on Tuesday knocked the websites of Ukrainian government offices and major banks offline, Ukrainian authorities said, attacks that came amid strong tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine…

At least 10 Ukrainian websites were unreachable due to denial-of-service attacks, including those of the Defense Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, the Culture Ministry and Ukraine’s two largest state banks. In such attacks, websites are barraged with a flood of junk data packets, rendering them unreachable.

Customers at Ukraine’s largest state-owned bank, Privatbank, and the state-owned Sberbank reported problems with online payments and the banks’ apps.

A DDOS attack is a primitive, almost superficial means of harassing an opponent, something a common hacker is capable of. The Russian state waging cyberwar in earnest would be orders of magnitude more destructive, potentially taking Ukrainian industries or energy grids offline. It’s anyone’s guess if the DDOS wave this morning was the Kremlin firing a shot across the bow, warning Ukraine and its allies that Russia intends to own the cyber battlespace, or just freelancers making opportunistic mischief.

Sources are whispering to Fox News that if Russia makes its move, more than just Ukraine could be on the menu:

I wrote this morning that Putin may back away from war, calculating that the costs to Russia of conquering — or at least smashing — Ukraine are too steep to justify the benefits. But if it’s part of a broader war of conquest aimed at reconstituting Russia’s western border?

Maybe he’s prepared to pay a price for a legacy like that.

Putin’s key demand, ostensibly, is a guarantee from NATO that Ukraine won’t be allowed to join. The U.S. isn’t willing to give that guarantee (yet?) but is Germany? The Times has this quote from Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s press conference with the German media after meeting with Putin today:

What if Scholz were to assure Putin privately that if NATO seeks to admit Ukraine, Germany will seek to leave NATO? An “us or them” situation, in other words? That would give Putin the assurance he wants without requiring any up-front guarantees about Ukraine’s status from the United States or the alliance itself.

But it would also give him something precious, proof that Germany’s commitment to NATO is ambivalent at best and conditional at worst. He may value that more highly than Ukraine itself. Shattering NATO by courting Berlin away from the west and into alignment with the east may not be in the offing soon but it’s a worthy long-term strategic project for him. If he can peel Germany away, Russia will have a much freer hand with satellite states on its western border in the future. Would the U.S., UK, and France ride to the rescue of the Baltics under Russian threat without German support?

Here’s the key bit from Biden’s speech this afternoon, which was solid inasmuch as it played the cards we’re able to play. Nicholas Grossman summarized it: “The US position is clear: Wants a diplomatic solution, won’t make unilateral concessions, will defend NATO, won’t directly intervene, will arm Ukraine, ready to weather economic disruption. That’s about as much as the US can shape Russia’s incentives.” As you’ll see, Biden also stressed that NATO isn’t a threat to Russia, doesn’t consider the people of Russia an enemy, and isn’t trying to destabilize Russia’s government, which may be as close as he gets to conceding that Ukraine won’t join NATO anytime soon. But there will be consequences if Russia invades, he emphasized, even if it means some economic pain for Americans too (i.e. surging energy prices). Exit quotation: “If we do not stand for freedom where it is at risk today, we’ll surely pay a steeper price tomorrow.” That’s the logic of NATO in a nutshell.

Update: Russia claimed this morning that some of its troops near the Ukrainian border had withdrawn to their bases, a hopeful sign that Putin was inclined to de-escalate. But Biden made a point of saying in his speech that the U.S. has been unable to verify that. And sources are whispering to reporters that the “withdrawal” remains more theoretical than observable reality:

My guess this morning was that the attack had been delayed but not canceled. Looking pretty likely this afternoon.