Amid Russian Nuclear Threat, Biden Administration Sees 'Prolonged Conflict' Leading to 'Diplomacy'

Susan Jones | September 23, 2022 | 8:08am EDT
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The rubble of an Orthodox monastery in a recently freed region of Ukraine is seen on September 22, 2022. (Photo by ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP via Getty Images)
The rubble of an Orthodox monastery in a recently freed region of Ukraine is seen on September 22, 2022. (Photo by ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP via Getty Images)

( - The Biden administration says diplomacy is the only way to end the war in Ukraine, but at the United Nations and in Washington this week, there were no calls for talks to begin. In fact, there was insistence that the war continue until Putin alone ends it.

As one administration official said, "this could be a prolonged conflict...Neither side appears to be willing to sit down and negotiate."

The Biden administration has indicated a willingness to let the war grind on, as it will continue to do as long as the U.S. keeps supplying Ukraine with billions of dollars in military equipment and support.

Speaking at the United Nations Security Council Ministerial meeting in New York, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said only "one man" can end the war:

"One man chose this war. One man can end it. Because if Russia stops fighting, the war ends. If Ukraine stops fighting, Ukraine ends. That's why we will continue to support Ukraine as it defends itself, and strengthen its hand to achieve a diplomatic solution on just terms at a negotiating table.

"As President Zelenskyy has said repeatedly, diplomacy is the only way to end this war, but diplomacy cannot and must not be used as a cudgel to impose on Ukraine a settlement that cuts against the U.N. Charter or rewards Russia for violating it. President Putin is making his choice. Now it's up to all of our countries to make ours.

"Tell President Putin to stop the horror that he started. Tell him to stop putting his interests above the interests of the rest of the world, including his own people. Tell him to stop debasing this Council and everything it stands for."

Blinken also noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin picked this particular week, when the U.N. Security Council is meeting, to call up 300,000 reservists to replenish Russian troop levels.

Putin's nuclear threat

In a televised address on Wednesday, Putin warned that if the territorial integrity of Russia is threatened, Russia would "certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people. It is not a bluff." Putin evidently was threatening to use nuclear weapons.

In Washington, John Kirby, the strategic communications coordinator for the National Security Council, said the United States and its allies must take Putin's nuclear threats "seriously."

"And we are," he said. "In fact, as you know, this isn't rhetoric that is new to Mr. Putin. He's been making these kinds of threats since almost the beginning of the war. He certainly amped it up a little bit yesterday. But, yes, we have to take that seriously. I mean, he's a modern nuclear power.

"And it's just irresponsible for him to be talking about the potential use of nuclear weapons or any weapons of mass destruction when we're seeing what's going on inside Ukraine."

Kirby said the U.S. isn't sure what Putin intends, but "we're monitoring this as closely as we can...We have no indications that we need to change our strategic deterrent posture. I think I will leave it there."

Kirby said Russia's chemical weapons also are "worrisome."

"Again, it's difficult to know how he's going to react to the losses that he has suffered. Now, we have seen at least a part of that reaction in this call-up of the reservists and calling for these sham referenda" (to annex parts of Ukraine).

"We have said from the very beginning that there's -- first of all, the war should end. Short of that, there's no reason for it to escalate. And escalating, in terms of weapons of mass destruction, that's not only going to be disastrous for the Ukrainian people, but it's potentially disastrous for the European continent. Certainly, it's not in keeping with our national security interests."

Host Andrea Mitchell noted that there's "no sign that either side is ready to negotiate."

Kirby agreed that it "could be a prolonged conflict."

"Obviously, we're starting to see that play out," he said:

"Neither side appears to be willing to sit down and negotiate. And so what we're going to do and what we're focused on -- and you heard the president talk about this yesterday -- is make sure we can continue to help Ukraine succeed on the battlefield, so that, if and when it gets to a point where they can sit down at the table, President Zelenskyy has a stronger hand in the negotiations."

Regime change, then diplomacy?

So the war in Ukraine will continue, with billions of U.S. dollars flowing to Ukraine to help it defend itself and an increasingly desperate Putin threatening a nuclear strike.

President Biden, speaking in Poland last March, said Putin "cannot remain in power," indicating that regime change in Russia is the actual U.S. goal in supporting Ukraine.

"Time and again, history shows that it’s from the darkest moments that the greatest progress follows," Biden said in Warsaw. "And history shows this is the task of our time, the task of this generation."

Biden said "people's love for liberty" will overcome "brutality."

"We will have a different future — a brighter future rooted in democracy and principle, hope and light, of decency and dignity, of freedom and possibilities. For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power," Biden said.

Speaking at the U.N. Security Council this week, Biden said, "the United States wants this war to end on just terms, on terms we all signed up for: that you cannot seize a nation’s territory by force. The only country standing in the way of that is Russia.

"So, we — each of us in this body who is determined to uphold the principles and beliefs we pledge to defend as members of the United Nations — must be clear, firm, and unwavering in our resolve. Ukraine has the same rights that belong to every sovereign nation. We will stand in solidarity with Ukraine. We will stand in solidarity against Russia’s aggression. Period.

"Now, it’s no secret that in the contest between democracy and autocracy, the United States — and I, as President — champion a vision for our world that is grounded in the values of democracy.

"The United States is determined to defend and strengthen democracy at home and around the world.  Because I believe democracy remains humanity’s greatest instrument to address the challenges of our time..."

As Biden indicated in March, eliminating Putin would be expected to "strengthen democracy."

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