Now that every expectation has been confounded by recent events, it is worth stepping back a moment to take a look at where we seemed to be a year ago from Moscow’s vantage point. A spirit of undiluted optimism reigned at the Russian Foreign Ministry with the inauguration of the Biden presidency. This is epitomised in an authoritative analytical lecture given in the Diplomatic Academy on 22 January 2021: “The Biden Administration. The Risks and Possibilities for Russian Diplomacy.”
After the ructions under President Trump (though in some ways welcome, but Moscow bureaucrats do not like the unpredictable) a more sober administration was now in power with much more limited goals that appeared destined to repair the broken bridges though not entirely restore the china that the former incumbent had thrown around the shop. America’s divisions had not been healed by a very marginal electoral victory. What Russian diplomats saw themselves dealing with was “an America weakened from within in a condition of stagnation [zastoi] and an attempt at reconstruction [perestroika] as Biden himself recognised, literally with a Brezhnev-Chernenko America, a collective gerontocratic leadership, shunning the young and their demands for radical change.”
The conclusion drawn was that the “change in administration in the USA creates the basis for a timely ‘fine tuning’ of the whole complex of problems in our foreign policy work from a position not only of greater confidence in our own strength but also greater clarity…as to the long term outlook of world developments…” And this was before the lamentable stampede from Kabul visibly demonstrated the weakness of the incumbent administration and its casual willingess to discard dependants in a spirit of impatient intolerance.
Read in the Kremlin it clearly spelt a different kind of opportunity than that outlined at the Diplomatic Academy. So the decision from on high to invade and conquer Ukraine came as a massive body blow to those devoted to furthering the interests of their country in international relations through (relatively) peaceful means who assumed that events were now already moving in their direction.