With the release of Brittney Griner after 10 months in Russian prison, President Joe Biden may have opened a channel to finally make peace between Russia and Ukraine.
As Michael Shear and Peter Baker put it, “The release of Ms. Griner, who turned 32 while in custody, was a rare bright spot in the confrontation between Mr. Biden and Vladimir V. Putin, the president of Russia, over Mr. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.”
This is indeed one of those opportunities that don’t come along that often, and opens the door to a deal that could end the fighting in Ukraine. As a harsh winter descends upon Europe, it is imperative for Biden to act as quickly as possible to bring Russia and Ukraine together and broker an agreement. This should be his number one priority. The prisoner exchange that freed Griner is a good starting point.
Putin might be playing his war games, but he might also be looking for an opening. He clearly miscalculated Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the West. He thought the invasion of Ukraine would be a cakewalk. Now, he is openly admitting that the war “might be a long process.”
There are indications that Putin may have lost 100,000 soldiers thus far. In the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, the Russians lost 60,000 troops (today, this would be many more). Ultimately, President Theodore Roosevelt brokered a peace agreement between Russia and Japan—the Treaty of Portsmouth. It was hashed out over 24 days in Kittery, Maine.
If peace is not achieved now, the prospects for a protracted war increase exponentially. Europe will suffer a worsening economic crisis. People will die from lack of heating oil and starvation. This will not only happen in Ukraine but throughout Europe. America will suffer collateral economic damage. Russia is clearly using this as a tactic to inflict maximum damage and gain diplomatic leverage.
In addition, the Hudson Institute reports that Russia may bring Belarus directly into the war to open a northern front. Fifteen Russian Tor-M2 low- to medium-altitude air defense systems have been deployed in Belarus. MIG-31 interceptor aircraft were placed in Belarus in October. These aircraft are capable of carrying Kinzhal missiles, which are ballistic missiles with dual-use conventional and nuclear delivery capability.
This may another example of the nuclear brinkmanship that Putin has used in the past. But Putin has moved quite a few troops into Belarus and is pressuring the country’s military to join him in the war. If Putin indeed attacks from Belarus, the Ukrainians will be overstretched and Kyiv will be threatened.
All of this will only prolong the war and lead to further escalation. Biden has his hands full, but if he cannot hammer out an end to the war soon, the picture looks quite bleak.
Dr. Joseph Frager is a lifelong activist and physician. He is chairman of Israel advocacy for the Rabbinical Alliance of America, chairman of the executive committee of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim and executive vice president of the Israel Heritage Foundation.