Biden, Putin and the War of Words Over Ukraine

Credit...Doug Mills/The New York Times
Credit...Pool photo by Gavriil Grigorov

To the Editor:

Re “Biden Condemns Moscow as Putin Calls Up Forces” (front page, Sept. 22):

As President Biden made his case at the U.N. for the world to firmly resist and unite against Russian aggression, Vladimir Putin, with dire threats, announced a new mobilization in an attempt to salvage his unprovoked ravaging of Ukraine. The contrast between the values of the two men and their messaging could not have been more stark.

As the principal architect of Ukraine’s rescue, Mr. Biden reinforced our commitment to strengthening decades-old alliances that were severely strained and nearly broken by his predecessor.

Mr. Putin, by wide consensus, is a reckless 21st-century throwback to dictator-driven aggression, last seen in the 1930s and ’40s. Based on illusionary threats to Russia, his invasion and designs for occupation that threaten the greatest destabilization of Europe since World War II are being courageously challenged.

Addressing Mr. Putin’s unhinged behavior, the president has left no doubt that preserving Ukraine’s independence — and likely the territorial integrity of Europe — will continue to demand difficult choices that our allies, and all Americans, must continue to unwaveringly support.

Roger Hirschberg
South Burlington, Vt.

To the Editor:

Re “We Don’t Yet Know How the Ukraine War Ends,” by Thomas L. Friedman (column, Sept. 21):

Mr. Friedman discusses possible resolutions of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, but I think that Vladimir Putin’s likeliest longer-term strategy is to drag out the conflict into the 2024 U.S. presidential election, counting on the predictable chaos and instability that will ensue. That would deprive the West of the United States’ critical international leadership and support for the Ukrainian cause.

This is Mr. Putin’s long game: an attenuated conflict that continues to damage the world economy, cause food shortages and exhaust alliances.

This situation makes it imperative that President Biden use his leadership of the anti-Russia coalition of nations — and the bipartisan domestic support for Ukraine — to recognize the urgency with which Mr. Putin’s aggression must be stopped. The president and our allies should make it crystal clear that the use of nuclear weapons or the de facto use of nuclear power facilities as weapons would lead to the termination of his reign.

We cannot let Mr. Putin prolong the agony of the Ukrainians and count on the fracture of American support in 2024 to allow him a Pyrrhic victory in the name of autocracy.

Eric Radack
Santa Fe, N.M.

To the Editor:

In my view as a longtime Moscow correspondent, here is an “Outcome 4” unmentioned by Thomas L. Friedman, namely Vladimir Putin wins, as follows:

Russia stages referendums in four Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine through Tuesday, which Mr. Putin will clearly fix to win. Russia then “legally” annexes them as part of the Russian Federation and declares their citizens Russian. At that point, in the Russian view, any Ukrainian attack on the territories is an attack on Russia itself, not Ukraine. And because of that Mr. Putin will say Ukraine has declared war on Russia and he is justified in declaring his “special military operation” a war on Ukraine.

And, finally, Mr. Putin’s declaration of war allows him to draft up to half a million conscripts (in addition to the 300,000 reservists already called up) to overwhelm Ukraine, in a far stronger onslaught, which a divided West cannot stop.

In short, Mr. Putin can win without using nuclear weapons. Will this happen? Nobody knows. But from everything Mr. Putin has and has not done so far, there is a strong possibility that something like this is his game plan. Western “experts” in government and academia, in Europe and America, would be wise to consider this a strong possibility, perhaps the strongest of all. Many already do.

Fred Coleman
The writer is a former Moscow bureau chief for Newsweek.

To the Editor:

I have not spoken to one European acquaintance who is not acutely aware that allowing Vladimir Putin to make permanent territorial gains in Ukraine would lead to a whetting of Russia’s appetite for more land conquests in the future, and a near future at that.

Too bad the West did not read the same implications into Mr. Putin’s invasion and annexing of Crimea in 2014. In Mr. Putin’s address to the Russian people he spoke of the West on a campaign to destroy Russia. This is no longer about Ukraine; it’s about the principle of national sovereignty, and Europe is on the front line and its citizens know it. President Biden knows it, too.

Susan Girod

To the Editor:

Re “Putin Is Backed Into a Corner, and May Be More Dangerous Than Ever,” by Roger Cohen (news analysis, Sept. 22):

The story that Vladimir Putin recounts of his experience as a boy with a stick confronting a rat trapped in a corner is interesting and instructive. Russia during World War II, Vietnam, Afghanistan and now Ukraine are examples of countries whose people have a strong cultural identity — and when backed into a corner, they have fought back ferociously.

The Russian president, however, appears to have wrongly interpreted his own parable. He is not the rat; he continues to be the boy with the stick. The people he confronts will bare tooth and claw and fight for their lives, their families and their country. With overwhelming might, he may be able to destroy them, but he remains the boy with the stick, and not the hero of his country.

Roy Funch
Lençóis, Brazil

To the Editor:

I’ve always wondered exactly what we imagined the end game of the Ukraine invasion to be. Vladimir Putin cannot afford to be seen as losing, and thus will do anything and everything to prevent that. Of course, that requires us to ponder what “everything” might mean. And if he does resort to tactical nuclear weapons, what possible response can there be from us that isn’t suicidal?

Jeffrey Waingrow
Sheffield, Mass.

Credit...Nina Riggio for The New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “San Francisco Without the Fog? Some Scientists Say It’s Waning,” by John Branch (front page, Sept. 22):

Thank you for this beautiful, almost elegiac portrayal of living where fog is our mysterious companion.

While there are occasional summer days when I feel oppressed by it, I know that all I have to do is drive 15 minutes south, east or north and I’m in full-on sunshine and summer heat. The rest of the time I am awed by its beauty, mystery, unpredictability and cool breezes.

I never tire of the drama of watching it pour into open gaps along the shoreline and snake its way into the winding hills of San Francisco. It is a showstopper, no ticket required.

Robin L. Perry
San Francisco

Credit...Timothy O'Connell for The New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Groups Organize to Ban Books” (Arts, Sept. 20):

Censorship is the antithesis of intellectual freedom; it is anti-democratic. Intellectual freedom is protected and guaranteed in the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Censorship abounds in autocratic regimes. It removes the opportunity for students and adults to think critically and develop their own sense of intellectual creativity and further intellectual enhancement.

The United States has been a bastion of intellectual pursuits, scientific discovery, and freedom of thought and expression. Without these educational building blocks, we will lose all our democratic ideals.

Harriet Selverstone
Westport, Conn.
The writer is a former president of the American Association of School Librarians and a member of the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee.