America Must Act Now to Thwart Putin's Aggression
Putin has won another six-year term, but there are things Trump can do to counter his growing power.
On Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin was “re-elected” in a landslide victory that was a forgone conclusion. As of Monday afternoon, Putin had collected 76% of votes cast, securing six more years ruling Russia. He’s already the second-longest “serving” leader in Russian history, behind only Joseph Stalin. But at least Putin was democratically elected, right? Only by farce.
To be sure, the election was rigged from top to bottom — even if the Trump administration won’t quite admit it. Reports abound of stuffed ballot boxes, forced voting, bribes and obstruction of poll watchers. Putin also jailed the only opposition candidate with a chance of defeating him, leaving him to run against a motley assortment of clowns and radicals that only accentuated the image of Putin as a strong, stable leader.
Yet the reality is that Putin is immensely popular with the Russian people; even his critics often see no better alternative. Criticism of Putin’s dictatorial methods are often rebutted by his supporters by asking, “If not Vladimir, then who?”
Putin’s popularity among the Russian people is psychological. They crave a strong leader who will defy the world and restore Russian greatness. President Ronald Reagan declared the Russian-led Soviet Union to be an “Evil Empire,” and then methodically bankrupted the USSR by engaging in a military build-up that their communist economy could not match. Russia had been thoroughly defeated and humiliated by the American-led West.
After the fall of the USSR, Boris Yeltsin rose to power in 1991 as president of the Russian Federation, and by the time he left in 1999, the Russian economy was in shambles, plagued by rampant inflation and corruption. The Russian “capitalists” (high-ranking political and military leaders — oligarchs — who seized state assets for themselves) became fabulously wealthy even as the average Russian struggled just to eat.
On New Year’s Eve 1999, Putin took power as president of Russia, and began consolidating power in an attempt to restore Russian glory. Putin famously claimed that the fall of the Soviet Union was the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century. The Russian people agreed, and Putin cemented his power every time he defied the West.
Putin began maneuvering to restore Russian prestige. That effort became immensely easier when Barack Obama became president. One of Obama’s very first acts was to betray U.S. allies Poland and the Czech Republic by canceling an agreement to provide anti-missile defense systems to both as a conciliatory move in the face of Russian aggression. He followed that with virtual silence as Russia invaded Crimea and armed and supported insurgents in pro-Western Ukraine.
Obama mocked 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney for declaring Russia to be America’s greatest geopolitical threat, taunting, “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.” Then Obama was caught on an open mic with Putin puppet Dmitry Medvedev, pleading for Medvedev to convince Putin to “give [Obama] space,” promising that after the election, when Obama would no longer have to answer to voters, he would have “more flexibility.”
It’s predictable that, with President Donald Trump now in the White House, Democrats suddenly see Russia as the enemy again. Democrats have become a gaggle of conspiracy theorists, searching high and low for evidence of Trump/Russia collusion, only discovering their own Democrat/Russia collusion in the process. Never mind that Obama gave Russia free rein for eight years, allowing it to gain power.
Regardless, the U.S. must act now to undermine Putin and keep him in check. Putin has become brazen is his threats and his aggression. Though Putin of course denies it, it’s all but certain that the Kremlin was behind the recent attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal — a former Russia spy under asylum in Great Britain — and his daughter, Yulia, using the banned nerve agent Novichok. Putin also recently announced Russia’s development of advanced nuclear weapons capable of penetrating U.S. missile defenses.
Putin’s willingness to authorize assassinations on foreign soil shows he believes the world will not stop him; a logical assumption, considering his aggression against sovereign nations, and murders and imprisonment of Russian dissidents, have been met with little more than weak chiding by the West.
Some argue Russia has become too powerful for America and Europe to take more forceful actions in reprisal. Over a third of Europe’s energy supplies come from Russia, but that’s a two-edged sword. More than half of Russia’s government revenue comes from its export of oil and gas. That makes it particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in global energy prices.
Just like Reagan did with the U.S. military build-up, President Trump can significantly weaken Russia, which has an economy already struggling to provide for the basic needs of its people, by further expanding U.S. energy exploration and increasing energy exports on the global market, driving down oil prices and starving Russia of revenue.
The U.S. can also increase sanctions, and provide greater economic and military support to Ukraine, enhancing its ability to defend itself and be a thorn in Russia’s side. We can freeze the nearly $1 trillion in assets placed in U.S. and Western banks by Putin-supporting Russian oligarchs, and limit their travel in the West.
Trump called Putin Tuesday to acknowledge his “election,” later saying it was a “very good call” and, “We’ll probably be meeting in the not-too-distant future.” Leftmedia talkingheads are, predictably, claiming the call was the latest evidence of their Trump/Putin collusion charade, which is now on life support. But the call was typical of Trump’s “art of the deal” strategy with Putin — all part of the negotiations game.
Whatever course is taken, it is imperative that the U.S. and its allies act decisively now to rein in Putin before his power grows any more. Otherwise the Russian menace grows ever stronger, until one day we realize the truth of Sir Winston Churchill’s axiom: “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile — hoping it will eat him last.”