February 23, 2022

Putin Strategizes, Biden Dithers

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. issued a few minor sanctions.

“[Vladimir] Putin knows that when I am president of the United States his days of tyranny and trying to intimidate the United States and those in Eastern Europe are over,” Joe Biden pompously declared during the 2020 presidential campaign. No doubt Putin chuckled about that all the way to the Ukrainian border.

Funny that Putin waited until Biden was president before launching what the latter called “a minor incursion” the “beginning of a Russian invasion” of Ukraine, a “flagrant violation of international law.” Biden is mad about that, he’ll have you know, and those pesky Russians now face a “first tranche” of economic sanctions from his administration. “Who in the Lord’s name does Putin think gives him the right to declare new so-called countries on territory that belonged to his neighbors?” Biden demanded to know Tuesday.

Well, about that. Putin’s strategy and goal for his own legacy is reclaiming Russia’s empire of old, something our Mark Alexander explained in December and again yesterday. Putin himself laid this out at length in a revisionist history speech in which he called Ukraine “an inalienable part of our own history, culture, and spiritual space.”

Political analyst David French adds insight to Putin’s twisted thinking: “Putin’s fundamental problem is with an independent Ukraine, not with NATO, and NATO is a threat mainly because it has the potential — one day — to guarantee the existence of an independent Ukraine.” That independence flies in the face of what Putin insists is Russia’s rightful dominion. French adds that “instability and aggression [are] inherent in Putin’s world view,” which he argues is more czarist than Soviet, while “self-determination is irrelevant.”

To accomplish his goal, Putin has moved against Ukraine. He deployed nearly 200,000 troops to Ukraine’s border. He “recognized” what Russian separatists have declared as two autonomous regions in eastern Ukraine, and he moved Russian troops into those regions — i.e., across the Ukraine border — to enforce Russia’s claim to that land.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky responded by declaring a state of emergency, activating military reservists, and taking steps to grant citizens the right to bear arms. (Perhaps some trouble would have been avoided if the Ukrainian government already acknowledged that right.) Zelensky has also suggested his nation will pursue nuclear weapons as a deterrence.

Biden, meanwhile, slapped sanctions on two Russian financial institutions and a couple of Russian oligarchs. The Wall Street Journal editorial board argues this isn’t nearly enough: “All Russian financial institutions deserve to be cut off from the outside world, and their dollar transactions restricted, until Russia withdraws from Ukrainian territory.”

Senator Ben Sasse called Biden’s effort “too little too late.” He added: “First, these sanctions should have happened before Putin further invaded Ukraine — not after. Second, economic sanctions now need to more aggressively target Putin’s oligarchs to make sure they feel real pain. Third, we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that today’s incremental sanctions will deter Putin from trying to install a puppet government in Kyiv.”

Indeed, remember Putin’s motivations. He’s not going to be deterred by a few sanctions, and in fact he’s spent years making economic moves to shield himself from the pain.

Not to worry, says Biden. There will be “costs.” For American citizens “here at home.”

After he’s done everything he could to weaken American energy production, Biden now insists, “I’m going to take robust action and make sure the pain of our sanctions is targeted at the Russian economy, not ours.” Meanwhile, oil prices approached $100 a barrel Tuesday. Obviously, you’ll pay even more for gas, which is already up 40% over a year ago, thanks to Biden’s provocative weakness. Energy prices more generally will also be affected.

We mentioned already that Putin waited until Biden was president. Put another way, Putin didn’t pull this stuff when his supposed stooge Donald Trump was in the White House. Trump’s policy was to squeeze Putin on the energy front and generally project American strength to deter such action. It worked.

Unfortunately, the former president also has a predilection for heaping fawning praise on the thug rulers of other countries, and Putin is perhaps the leading beneficiary. Trump described Putin’s strategy as “genius” because Russia’s strongman can claim to “be a peacekeeper.”

For this, the obtuse goons at CNN headlined, “Trump sides with Putin as Biden tries to stop a war.” Trump’s poor comments notwithstanding, we award CNN a fact-check of “missing context” at the very least. Trump also rightly described the situation as a “disaster” that “never would have happened” under his administration. And, he warned, “China’s going to be next.” Yes, we’ve said the same thing. CNN just didn’t think those comments were worth including in the story.

Trump also noted that Biden “has no concept of what he’s doing.” Putin is all too aware of that. The unfortunate reality is that Biden’s dithering and failure — particularly in Afghanistan — invited a genuine crisis simply because Putin saw an opportunity.

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