Biden was always more 'keen on Ukraine' than Obama: war expert
Barack Obama and Joe Biden, via Biden's Facebook.

Slate’s war stories correspondent Fred Kaplan spoke with Mary Harris to share his thoughts on President Joe Biden's Ukrainian position - and what he thinks will happen next.

"If you’ve heard anything about this troop buildup around Ukraine, alarm is probably what’s resonated the most alarm that Vladimir Putin is testing the West alarm that Russia might expand an ongoing military operation inside Ukraine," Harris said. "But I wanted to talk to Fred because alarm was not his first reaction to this news."

"What I’m about to say is the kind of thing that, if I’m wrong, could be played back six months from now and make me look really stupid," Kaplan said. "But I don’t think that he’s going to invade Ukraine. I don’t think that’s what’s going on...If they were really going to invade Ukraine from the east and from the west through Belarus - kind of a pincer movement and then occupy the place - they would need a lot more than 90000 troops. Second...going in and crushing the place, there would be armed resistance. There will be Russians coming back in body bags. And finally, as is in general, Putin has been quite cautious in the use of military force."

Harris referred to the agreements as "hedges against autocracy" and Kaplan offered, "These two countries, Ukraine and Taiwan, they’re examples of what some people call strategic ambiguity. I mean, were we sort of have a commitment to them, but not quite for many years. These relationships have been allowed to keep things stable. They’ve never really been tested. And now, you know, at least some people are saying they might be tested, and we don’t really quite know what we’re going to do about it."

Kaplan added, "Biden himself is very keen on on Ukraine. When he was vice president in 2014, he wanted to do more to help Ukraine than than Obama did. He wanted to send some lethal arms even then. But I asked, 'Is there anybody who is saying that what we need to do is to let Ukraine into NATO’s right now? Or is there anybody who is saying if Russia invades, we have to send us troops to counter them?' And what I’m hearing is, 'No, nobody’s saying that.' So why base your whole position on an insistence for something that that you’re never going to do anyway? Look, I have no idea whether this approach will meet success. I don’t know. But this is what Putin has laid down on the table. Let’s take that as a premise and go from there and see if it’s if it works."

Kaplan said it appeared Russia could be worried about backlash from the West, specifically the U.S.

"It seems they certainly don’t want to get into a war with the United States," he said. "What Putin has been doing for the last several years is disrupting and interfering with American democracy and disrupting ties between the U.S. and countries in Western Europe, especially when Trump was president that were provocative and destructive in ways that were indirect and subtle, and therefore not likely to provoke a direct response from the United States. So he goes for the indirect approach, which is much harder to deal with."

A direct interference in Ukraine would not be wise, according to Kaplan.

"If he really does do what the more alarmed people think he’s priming to do, then yeah, this is going to provoke a tremendous backlash from from the West, which is one reason why I don’t think he’s going to do it because he can’t afford that," Kaplan said.