December 8, 2021

Biden Gives Putin a Toothless Warning

As Russian troops mass on the border with Ukraine, Biden threatens economic pain.

As U.S. intelligence officials warn of Russia having recently amassed some 70,000 troops on its border with Ukraine, Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin engaged in a scheduled video call Tuesday. Biden reportedly issued a stern warning to Putin that Russia will experience “a very real cost” to its economy should he move against Ukraine.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki explained: “We’ve consulted significantly with our allies and believe we have a path forward that would impose significant and severe harm on the Russian economy. You can call that a threat. You can call that a fact. You can call that preparation. You can call it whatever you want to call it.”

How about calling it what it is — a toothless threat? Based on Biden’s abysmal foreign policy record thus far into his presidency, combined with his desire to have the Kremlin’s support in restarting nuclear talks with Iran, Putin has little reason to take his American counterpart seriously. Put simply, if Biden was unwilling to stand up to the Taliban, why on earth would he stand up to Putin?

Meanwhile, Putin says he objects to Ukraine joining NATO. While that is certainly true, he’s using it as an excuse for his military buildup on the Ukraine border. “Western leaders have consistently underestimated Mr. Putin because they misjudge his ambitions,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board observes. “He doesn’t want Russia to become a normal European power. He views the breakup of the Soviet Union as a national tragedy, and he wants to restore a Greater Russia by bringing the former Soviet republics back under Kremlin sway.”

Unfortunately, the Biden administration seems to believe that weak threats will be enough to keep Putin at bay. Per Secretary of State Antony Blinken, “Diplomacy is the only responsible way to resolve this potential crisis.” Yet the sanctions imposed against Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which Biden lifted soon after taking office, remain lifted. Why? Putin gains enormous power and influence in Europe thanks to that pipeline, and, unlike our own Keystone XL, it has Biden’s full support. The only economic pain coming from Biden is inflicted on his own people.

Near the end of George W. Bush’s presidency, Putin invaded the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Six years later during Barack Obama’s second, more “flexible” term, Putin moved against Ukraine by annexing Crimea. In both cases, U.S. leadership lacked the will to seriously counter Putin’s aggression.

And now six years since taking Crimea, Putin is seriously eyeing taking the rest of Ukraine while a feckless leader sits at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Furthermore, should China suddenly strike against Taiwan, it would provide the perfect opportunity for Russia to act, as Biden would be stuck with too many foreign crises on his plate to offer any significant response — other than still more toothless threats of economic pain.

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