David Harsanyi / May 21, 2021

What Does Putin Have on Biden?

Biden has said a lot of scathing things about Putin, but there is no evidence that his policies are any tougher than Trump’s.

Only a few months ago, the Biden administration argued that Nord Stream 2, a proposed natural-gas pipeline running from Russia to Germany, was “a bad deal” that “exposes Ukraine and Central Europe.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki had noted at the time that any new pipeline carrying the fossil fuel on the continent “goes against Europe’s own stated energy and security goals.”

This week, Axios reports that President Joe Biden is set to waive sanctions against a major company building the pipeline — as well as its CEO, Matthias Warnig, a former Stasi agent and a Putin, er, associate. Setting aside a debate over the usefulness of waivers, the muted reaction to the lifting of sanctions once again exposes that the Russian collusion hysteria that enveloped the media and political conversation for nearly five years was a contrived effort to spin a lie.

The Democrats have shamelessly fluctuated on Russian policy. And it is not only that many of the same officials crafting Biden’s foreign policy mocked Mitt Romney for warning about Russian geopolitical threats. Even before President Barack Obama asked Vladimir Putin’s flunky Dmitry Medvedev to “transmit” his promise “to Vladimir” about “flexibility” on missile defense, the United States had already canceled the sale of American missile defense systems to our allies in Poland and the Czech Republic. It was Obama who spent two years trying to kill the Magnitsky Act. It was Obama who allowed Russia to operate with impunity in Syria to protect the prospects of the Iran deal. It was Joe Biden, not Comrade Trump, who championed the “reset” and capitulated to Russia on accession to the World Trade Organization. “President Obama has made Russia’s W.T.O. membership a top priority for U.S.-Russia relations in 2011,” the White House explained.

All of this was forgotten when the media decided that American democracy had been stolen by a smattering of Facebook ads and some Twitter bots. As this went on, the Trump administration opened up the sale of lethal weapons to Ukraine — including anti-tank missiles. It was Trump who reinstated sales of Patriot missile defense systems to Eastern Europe and continued to impose sanctions and other measures. It was Trump who refused to extend a one-sided arms-control agreement. Biden is now seeking a five-year extension.

Now, perhaps it’s in the best interests of Germany to build a natural gas pipeline and in our best interests to stay out of Europe’s energy decisions. I tend to think so. If Germany is comfortable securing fuel from a Russian kleptocracy, who are we, a nation now willing to empower the theocratic oil-producing regime in Iran, to lecture them?

But, it shouldn’t be lost on us that not only does the Nord Stream 2 enrich and strengthen Putin’s hold on power, also it’s in direct contradiction to Biden’s stated claim that the “climate crisis” is now a major factor in his administration’s foreign-policy decisions. The pipeline is likely to critically undercut the ability of Germany, now in the middle of a nuclear phase-out, to meet Paris Agreement targets. Then again, the treaty, which Biden rejoined in one of his first acts as president, also benefits Russia, which will simply ignore inconvenient carbon-emission goals.

It is also difficult not to notice that news of the waivers comes only a week after a cyberattack emanating from Russia shut down the massive Colonial Pipeline, resulting in shortages and gas lines in the eastern United States — for which Biden gave Putin absolution before any major investigation could possibly have been conducted. This is also the same president who shut down the construction of our own Keystone XL Pipeline, costing thousands of jobs.

The waivers are almost certainly meant to ease tensions in advance of today’s meeting in Iceland between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. Yet, reading news coverage in the context of the past five years of Russia mania is something of a surreal experience. In Bloomberg’s “Balance of Power” newsletter today, I learned that the Arctic Council meeting is the president’s second chance at a “reset,” in which “Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin can reinvigorate U.S.-Russia relations that have been in a deep freeze for years.” How could this be after four years of Putin infiltrating the White House? Trump, a Russian asset since 1987, must have been a supreme disappointment to the Kremlin.

It is without question that any such allowance by Trump would have been met with a frenzied round of bellowing from the conspiracists who still populate cable-news networks. They would have wondered aloud what kind of kompromat Putin had on Trump. Biden has said a lot of scathing things about Putin — calling him “evil” and “a killer” (true and true) — but there is no evidence that his policies are any tougher on Russia than Trump’s. In many ways, in fact, they seem less so.

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