After visiting Ukraine over the weekend, US defense chief Lloyd Austin declared that he wants to see "Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine,” per the Wall Street Journal. It was no off-the-cuff comment, writes David Sanger in a New York Times analysis. Instead, it was a "carefully orchestrated" statement that signals a shift in America's role in the conflict, he writes. No, President Biden will not send ground troops or impose a no-fly zone that could lead to direct confrontation. But the US is getting more aggressive about trying to undermine Russia's military indirectly—through sanctions, notably—and the change could have long-term implications.
"By casting the American goal as a weakened Russian military, Mr. Austin and others in the Biden administration are becoming more explicit about the future they see: years of continuous contest for power and influence with Moscow that in some ways resembles what President John F. Kennedy termed the 'long twilight struggle' of the Cold War," writes Sanger. One big risk, as spelled out by think-tank analyst James Arroyo, "is that ‘degrade Russian military power’ could easily shift into a degradation of Russia as a power generally—and that (Vladimir) Putin will use that to stoke nationalism.”
Meanwhile, as the US and the West ramp up aid to Ukraine, Russian diplomat Sergei Lavrov is warning not of a new Cold War but of World War III, complete with nuclear weapons. “The risk is serious, real. It should not be underestimated,” Lavrov said in a state-TV interview in Russia Monday night, per the Journal. “Under no circumstances should a third world war be allowed to happen,” he said. "There can be no winners in a nuclear war.” He accused NATO of "going to war with Russia through a proxy and arming that proxy.” (Read more Russia-Ukraine war stories.)