Make ‘Regime Change’ Great Again
Vladimir Putin needs to go, but can economic sanctions depose an autocrat?
“There is a rank due to the United States, among nations, which will be withheld, if not absolutely lost, by the reputation of weakness.” —George Washington (1793)
Recall, ahead of the 2020 election, sleepy Joe Biden took a jab at Donald Trump’s verbal imprecision, declaring emphatically: “The words of a president matter. No matter if they are good, bad, or indifferent. They matter. No matter how competent or incompetent the president is, they can send a nation to war or they can bring peace.”
Well, in fact, the words of an incompetent president do matter, and they can “send a nation to war.”
Thus was the case with Biden’s latest verbal imprecision while confabbing with NATO allies in Europe, where he insisted Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power.” As I concluded earlier this week, it was the most compelling moment of his remarks, but it fell far outside the administration’s “appeasement” policy, so there was a scramble to walk it back.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken quickly clarified, “As you know, and as you’ve heard us say repeatedly, we do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia or anywhere else,” followed by more walk-backs by the Biden bunch. That prompted the Washington Post’s Henry Olsen to demand the Left “stop making excuses” for Biden’s “disturbing pattern of miscues that unnecessarily raise the risk of a direct confrontation with Russia.”
Likewise, our key NATO allies, the UK, France, and Germany, repudiated Biden for the inference of “regime change.”
However, I understood what Biden was trying to say — Putin is a tyrant doing tyrannical things and needs to go. I think most folks understood that.
Fact is, every day of his presidency, we have all had to “interpret” the meaning of Biden’s “incontinens lingua” (incontinent language), the result of his increasingly evident non compos mentis slide into dementia. While that slide is sad for anyone so afflicted, when manifested in the actions of a sitting president, it is also incredibly dangerous.
How dangerous? Well, in the last proxy war with Russia, the protracted contest to defeat Russian-backed communists in Vietnam, 58,220 Americans died. Ironically, Ukraine could be for Putin what Vietnam was for the U.S. — a deadly conflict that lost the public and political will to win.
But in the current confrontation tempting NATO action against Russia in Ukraine, we are perilously near the horizon of a far more deadly and direct kinetic conflict with another nuclear superpower — something we should prefer to avoid.
That notwithstanding, adding fuel to the regime change fire, back on American soil Biden was asked about his administration’s effort to walk back his remarks, and he walked back the walk-back, angrily insisting: “What’s getting walked back? … I’m not walking anything back.”
Apparently, Biden forgot to use the walk-back talking points card that he had in hand as he was walking back the walk-back.
So the key question: Why does Biden’s “regime change” insinuation matter?
First, predictably, it was a gift to Putin, who used it as a propaganda talking point to further his fomenting of nationalist fervor in response to the economic sanctions levied because of his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. As political analyst Gary Bauer observed: “Putin took the statement and broadcast it non-stop on Russian state-controlled media. Putin knows that whatever Russians think of him, they are a proud people who do not want the U.S. to pick their leaders.”
Second, the remark drives a stake into the heart of economic sanctions.
Notwithstanding Biden’s flip-flop insistence that sanctions are not a deterrent — “Let’s get something straight … I did not say that in fact the sanctions would deter him,” after he and everyone around him said sanctions would deter Putin — the “regime change” remark undermines the probability that Putin will be moved by the significant economic sanctions now besetting his country.
It is important to understand that if Putin believes the U.S./NATO objective of sanctions is to remove him from office — and in fact regime change may be precisely the objective — then he has nothing to lose in moving forward with what he views as his ultimate legacy or perhaps his destiny — the reunification of Ukraine and some smaller former Soviet republics (FSRs), with Russia, despite sanctions.
Thus, Biden’s remark has enormous consequences.
But an overarching question is, what effect do the current sanctions have on the Russian people and, by extension, Putin? Do sanctions influence a narcissistic autocrat?
Here is the backdrop for the rise of Vladimir Putin, and with him, the prospect of another Cold War.
After the collapse of communism in 1991, the fall of the “Evil Empire” as Ronald Reagan referenced the USSR, there was hope that Russia and the former republics would emerge from the Soviet reign of terror as democratized states. Some of the Soviet satellite states moved faster toward democratization than did the FSRs, which had existed under communist oppression for seven decades — more than three generations.
In 1991, I was part of one of the first U.S. delegations to Russia and the former republics. Members of our delegation were tasked with the objective of seeding the democratization of the judicial and law enforcement systems of the post-Soviet states. The notion of what we take for granted, the Rule of Law that forms the foundation of American Liberty, had no corresponding point of reference in Russia, where the dictatorial state and its Communist Party apparatchiks held all power.
At that time, the Russian people, whom I found remarkably hopeful, were challenged with adopting the principles of individual Liberty that did not exist in any form.
But in less than a decade, those hopes faded to darkness as Putin, a former KGB thug who began perfecting his politically corrupt ambitions the day the USSR disintegrated, became an administrator for the corrupt regime of the drunkard president Boris Yeltsin in 1996 — including taking over the KGB successor bureaucracy, the FSB. In 1999, Putin became “acting president” when Yeltsin resigned, and he was “elected” president in the notoriously corrupt election of 2000. He has held the interchangeable positions of president and prime minister since that time, and in 2021, the 68-year-old Putin enacted a law that would allow him to be reelected for two more terms, extending his dictatorship until 2036.
Under Putin, the self-appointed potentate of a pariah state, the “Evil Empire” rose from the ashes in Russia, as it has in several other former republics.
Today, Putin’s political power is akin to a “kinder/gentler” version of Joseph Stalin’s authoritarian rule, and over the last two decades, he has not only centralized his statist power, codifying his dictatorship, but he has also amassed enormous kleptocratic wealth stolen from the Russian people.
Despite Biden’s bluster about sanctions on Russia’s corrupt oligarchs, who are all beholden to Putin and will do nothing to challenge him, the wealthiest among them is Putin himself. He has embezzled what is estimated to be somewhere between $10 and $200 billion from the Russian treasury and state holdings, but he and his wealth are well protected.
However, sanctions hurt and will continue to have an enormous impact on the Russian people.
Russia is largely dependent on energy exports for revenues. More than 40% of Russia’s federal budget is funded by oil and gas sales, which account for almost 60% of its exports. Thus, the sale and price of oil has a significant impact on Russia’s economy. Of course, that’s the oil and gas upon which Germany and other European nations are now completely dependent.
Notably, the rapid increase in that price as a result of sanctions has actually helped fund Putin’s invasion.
In a good summation of sanctions, National Review’s Jim Geraghty notes that the financial sanctions have the biggest impact on the Russian government. The UK’s Treasury Committee reports, “One of the boldest moves in the financial sanctions package has been the sanctions levelled at the Russian Central Bank, which appear to have denied access by Russia to half of its reserves.”
There are optimistic reports, such as, “We could be witnessing the death-throes of a superpower,” and that Russia may be on the verge of collapse. Some economists suggest that the impact of sanctions on Russia’s economy could set the nation back three decades.
But the global impact of sanctions raises questions about how long the unified support for such measures will last. Sanctions are having a significant detrimental impact on global financial markets, particularly the security depositories of EU banks. In the U.S., oil boycotts are pushing the price at gas pumps even higher than Biden’s war on oil.
But again, the key question is, do sanctions dampen Putin’s pursuit to annex Ukraine?
Putin himself told his senior political leaders: “Russian financial companies, major enterprises, small and medium-sized businesses are facing unprecedented pressure. Clearly … we will have to make deep structural changes in our economy, and I will not pretend that they will be easy or that they will not lead to a temporary increase in inflation and unemployment.”
Why would Putin make such admissions?
As I have noted since the first sanctions were implemented, Putin anticipated these “setbacks,” and he will use them to evoke nationalist fervor as did Adolf Hitler ahead of World War II. There are a lot of parallels to be drawn between these two narcissistic dictators.
To that end, Putin publicly blames the hardships that accompany these sanctions on the “illegal seizure” of Russian assets by Western capitalists, what he calls the “collective West.” He declared, “They have no use — simply no use — for a strong and sovereign Russia, and they will not forgive us for our independent policy or for standing up for our national interests.”
Evoking nationalist fervor as did Adolf Hitler…
As for his detractors, in a national address, Putin said: “Any nation, and even more so the Russian people, will always be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors and will simply spit them out of their mouths like an insect, spit them onto the pavement. I am convinced that a natural and necessary self-detoxification of society like this would strengthen our country.”
Putin has also held massive rallies to bolster nationalism.
Evoking nationalist fervor as did Adolf Hitler…
Thus, coming full circle, Biden’s suggestion of regime change has emboldened Putin.
Some analysts are predicting that in Ukraine, “Russia may be heading for an outright defeat,” insisting, “There are no vast reserves of forces Putin can call up to add to the battle.” Presently, that is overly optimistic despite all the favorable media reports about breaks in Russian military supply lines.
Depending on the outcome of the current “peace talks,” and military operations in the coming week, Putin may advise his generals to tuck tail and retreat back to the eastern Ukraine border, and regroup in the Donbas region states he declared independent of Ukraine, Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic. He can then hang his generals for doing so. That will leave massive reparations before sanctions could be lifted.
But, as I have written previously, the tidiest way to terminate Putin’s murderous Ukraine invasion – and his tyrannical dictatorship in Russia, is for a member of his security or military detail to put a bullet in his head. The more war and sanction-related civil unrest that emerges in Russia’s major cities, the more likely a proud and heroic individual may impose that “regime change” – and that individual would qualify for a “Hero of Russia” medal.
Meanwhile, Biden is using the Ukraine conflict as a smokescreen to seal the disastrous Iran nuke deal — as if we can now trust Iran. He is using it to promote his bloated budget, lying about how it will improve our military readiness when in fact it further erodes our warfighting capability. He is using it as cover for his record-setting Bidenflation crush on American families.
Oh, and then there is that whole Red China threat lurking on the Western Front.
Let me make this clear again: The most dangerous threat to U.S. national security has been and remains the boundless ineptitude of Joe Biden – and his equally inept foreign policy hacks. Of course Biden and his domestic policy hacks are also the greatest threat to domestic prosperity.
That is becoming clearer by the day to the majority of Americans, who have no confidence in Biden’s handling of Putin. His overall approval remains anchored far underwater, reaching new lows this week.
Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776
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