Thomas Gallatin / July 8, 2021

Russia Quickly Crossed Biden’s Red Line

Will the president follow through and hold Putin to account?

Is Joe Biden all talk but no action? Biden certainly talked a big game when he warned Russian President Vladimir Putin last month in Geneva that “certain infrastructure should be off-limits to attack, period — by cyber or any other means.” Recall that a few weeks prior, Colonial Pipeline had experienced a ransomware attack that forced a days-long shutdown of some 5,000 miles of pipeline in the Southeast, creating fuel shortages and gas price hikes. It was quickly determined that the culprit was a Russian-based organization with clear ties to the Kremlin.

In drawing his red line, Biden gave Putin a list of 16 do-not-touch areas, promising, “If, in fact, they violate these basic norms, we will respond with cyber. He knows.” Biden further elaborated, “We agreed to task experts in both our countries to work on specific understandings about what’s off-limits [for hacking] and to follow up on specific cases that originate in … either of our countries.”

Heaven help the American entities that didn’t make Biden’s list and are thus, apparently, fair game — assuming Putin wasn’t laughing at this threat all the way back home.

Indeed, Biden’s red line was crossed just last week. It appears clear that Russia’s foreign intelligence service, SVR, was behind a cyberattack on a Republican National Committee contractor. It’s the same group that in 2015 hacked the Democratic National Committee. So, for all intents and purposes, Putin has called Biden’s bluff. Will Biden follow through on his promised response?

“If the U.S. doesn’t respond, it will be open season on America’s digital infrastructure,” contends the Wall Street Journal editorial board. “Proportionate retaliation runs the risk of escalation. But after publicly drawing a red line, Mr. Biden has no choice lest he show Mr. Putin and other thugs around the world that the U.S. President’s words are empty.”

Thus far, the Biden administration has done nothing, which will only serve to further embolden Putin, whom Biden earlier this year called a “killer,” as well as America’s other adversaries like China. Speaking of China, last week a clearly emboldened President Xi Jinping drew his own line in the sand during the Communist Party’s celebration of its centennial. Xi issued a clear warning to the U.S. not to stand in China’s way in its efforts to take over Taiwan. “Whoever attempts to do that,” Xi warned, “will surely break their heads on the steel Great Wall built with the blood and flesh of 1.4 billion of Chinese people.”

If Biden doesn’t hold Putin accountable, beyond another stern warning, the likelihood of him confronting Chinese aggression against Taiwan seems even more implausible.

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