The secret planning that kept the White House a step ahead of Russia

The Biden administration’s secret planning began in April 2021 when Russia massed about 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border. The buildup turned out to be a feint, but Blinken and other officials discussed U.S. intelligence about Russia’s actions with leaders of Britain, France and Germany at a NATO meeting in Brussels that month. Their message was, “We need to get ourselves prepared,” a senior State Department official said.

Germany was a reluctant but essential ally, and the Biden administration made a controversial decision last summer that was probably crucial in gaining German support against Russia. Biden gave Germany a pass on an initial round of sanctions against a company building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in exchange for a pledge from Chancellor Angela Merkel that if Russia invaded, Nord Stream 2 would be scrapped. When the invasion came, Merkel was gone but her successor, Olaf Scholz, kept the promise.

By avoiding a crisis with Germany early on, Blinken said, “the net result was that the foundation was in place when the Russians went ahead with the aggression.”

This U.S. diplomacy gets high marks from Emily Haber, the German ambassador to Washington. “The wording in the joint statement [about Nord Stream] was vague, but the administration trusted the old — and later the new — chancellor to follow up on it. Which is what happened,” she told me. “A sublime form, I thought, of partnership management.”

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