Former President Donald Trump made clear to us all the dangers of the greatest threats to our country: our foes in Russia, China, and Iran. Though former President Obama named North Korea as our nation’s greatest threat led by Kim Jong-un, Trump discovered early on Kim was NOT a REAL adversary. Interestingly, Trump confronted all of those nations and their leaders and made clear that on his watch, no terror would be tolerated from any of these rogue nations. NONE decided to test Mr. Trump.
Under this President, the opposite seems to be true. NONE of the above leaders believe President Joe Biden has the chutzpah to impact their totalitarian regimes. Each has begun to flex their muscles in the international community. It’s just a matter of time until one or several together test the resolve of Joe Biden.
Among those, who seems to be the greatest threat? I’m not certain who could inflict the greatest damage against our nation. But it appears that the one who is committed to doing so is Russia under Putin.
Just who is Vladimir Putin and what power does he have?
Putin was born in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) and studied law at Leningrad State University, graduating in 1975. Putin worked as a KGB foreign intelligence officer for 16 years, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel, before resigning in 1991 to begin a political career in Saint Petersburg. He later moved to Moscow in 1996 to join the administration of President Boris Yeltsin. He briefly served as director of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and secretary of the Security Council, before being appointed as Prime Minister in August 1999. After the resignation of Yeltsin, Putin became acting President, and less than four months later was elected outright to his first term as president and was reelected in 2004.
As he was then constitutionally limited to two consecutive terms as president, Putin served as Prime Minister again from 2008 to 2012 under Dmitry Medvedev and returned to the presidency in 2012 in an election marred by allegations of fraud and protests. He was reelected again in 2018. In April 2021, following a referendum, he signed into law constitutional amendments including one that would allow him to run for reelection twice more, potentially extending his presidency to 2036.
Putin In 2022
Vladimir Putin’s new year is off to quite a start. The Russian autocrat isn’t just massing troops on the Ukraine border, kicking off a diplomatic panic in European capitals and in Washington. In recent days he’s also backed a refugee stand-off with Poland, helped Kazakhstan’s strongman squelch pro-democracy protests, maintained a presence in Assad’s Syria, established new footholds in Mali and the Central African Republic, cozied up to communist China, and, in a nod to Khrushchev, hinted he might build military infrastructure in Cuba and Venezuela.
What’s remarkable about this geographically expansive, chaos-inducing, dangerous spectacle is that it was entirely avoidable.
Mr. Putin certainly is no weakling. He is a son of the former Soviet Union, a system that was steeped in lies and sustained by violence, an experience that shaped his leadership style. Any threat to his power at home, by a political opponent or too-inquisitive journalist, is put down immediately. Abroad, any democratic movement on Russia’s boundaries, be it in Georgia, Ukraine, or elsewhere, is rapidly undermined by Russian military power or proxies. This is not a man who responds to diplomatic niceties or craves adoration from global elites. Mr. Putin is more accurately understood as a corrupt thug with a nuclear arsenal and oil rigs.
These commonsense insights were internalized during the Donald Trump era, to great effect. When the 45th president met Putin in Helsinki in July 2018, many critics panned the display as a too-friendly dalliance with the Russian. What they failed to understand was the bigger picture: President Trump and his national security team had constructed a larger strategic framework to constrain Putin’s worst instincts while bolstering American national security.
American deterrence laid the foundation. From the very beginning of his administration, President Trump made clear that the use of force was never off the table. Recall the threat of “fire and fury” against North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un? Or the “mother of all bombs” that the Trump Pentagon dropped on militants in Afghanistan? Or the remarkably effective “maximum pressure” campaign on the Islamic Republic of Iran? All were of a piece with a larger strategy of rebuilding a military deterrent, which Barack Obama had dangerously eroded in almost every major theater.
Then there was the economic lever. Republican administrations are generally friendlier to risk-taking and capital investment than their Democrat counterparts, but Trump was especially so. His four years of regulatory axing and pro-exploration policies facilitated an explosion in energy production and job creation, resulting in two remarkable feats: transforming the U.S. into the world’s largest oil and natural gas producer, and making the U.S. a net energy exporter for the first time in 70 years. The cost of energy, which impacts every manufactured good’s price, tumbled and American economic growth surged.
The Trump energy boom reduced the OPEC cartel’s pricing power, reducing the flow of rubles into Mr. Putin’s coffers, and allowing the administration to credibly increase political pressure on nations like Germany to wean themselves off of Russian energy supplies. American diplomats fanned out across Europe to encourage the Three Seas Initiative and the East-West natural gas pipeline across the Mediterranean, a joint project between Greece, Israel, and Cyprus.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s meetings with his Croatian and Slovenian counterparts were demonstrative and where energy security was a major topic of discussion. The U.S. goal was to develop multiple alternatives for our European friends to diversify their energy sources and build relationships with more reliable — “non-Russian suppliers” — preferably American. Can you imagine such a discussion happening today?
Of course not. And that’s the strategic 180-degree lurch upon which Putin has seized. Joe Biden hasn’t just been anti-fossil fuel production, shuttering American pipelines and walling off swathes of Alaska to oil exploration and production, giving Mr. Putin a much-needed cash infusion. In his first year, President Biden and his team have also accommodated many key Russian demands, from renewing the New START treaty to withdrawing American opposition to the Nordstream II pipeline, to engaging in multiple rounds of diplomatic talks with Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov without anything to show for it.
Layer on top of that the broader destruction, once again, of U.S. military deterrence, thanks to this administration’s disastrous, hurried withdrawal from Afghanistan, its reduction in military support for Saudi Arabia in its war against Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi terrorists, its slide back into “dialogue” with communist China, its anemic support (if you can call it that) of pro-democracy Cuban and Venezuelan dissidents, and its abandonment of efforts to engage North Korea in talks. Mr. Putin isn’t living in an isolation cell in Communist China. He knows weakness when he sees it.
Like his Soviet forebears, Vladimir Putin will press his advantage until forced to withdraw. If the Biden team maintains its current course, the rapidly unfolding Ukraine crisis may only just be the beginning.
President Biden’s Position On Russia
As tensions between Russia and Ukraine are expected to hit a boiling point in the next few days, White House officials have had plenty to say regarding the conflict and what they plan to do if things go south.
President Joe Biden dedicated part of his lengthy one-year address to the conflict between the two nations, which has been triggered by Ukraine’s commitment to joining NATO. During the address, Biden said that Russia should be held accountable for its potential decision to invade the country.
“Russia will be held accountable if it invades, and it depends on what it does,” he said, continuing with, “it’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion, and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, etcetera. But if they actually do what they’re capable of doing with the force amassed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia if they further invade Ukraine.”
It was not long before those involved in the Biden administration began clarifying his comments. White House National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne responded to a tweet from CNN reporter Jim Sciutto as the conference continued.
“He was referring to the difference between military and non-military/para-military/cyber action by the Russians,” she wrote. “Such actions would be met by a reciprocal response, in coordination with Allies and partners.”
Shortly after the address ended, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also released a statement shedding new light on Biden’s comments, which some had interpreted as potentially downplaying the potential impact on a Russian invasion.
“President Biden has been clear with the Russian President: If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our Allies,” she wrote in the Wednesday press release. “President Biden also knows from long experience that the Russians have an extensive playbook of aggression short of military action, including cyberattacks and paramilitary tactics. And he affirmed today that those acts of Russian aggression will be met with a decisive, reciprocal, and united response.”
The morning after the address, the administration continued to discuss what Biden meant by his words. In an interview on Fox News, Psaki addressed the comments again and gave further clarification into the matter.
“There’s a range of tactics that Russians use, whether it’s the little green men as they’re called or it’s cyberattacks, and we will be prepared to respond to that as well,” she told America’s Newsroom anchors Bill Hemmer and Dana Perino. “We’re prepared for a range of tactics they may use but if they move their military into Ukraine, we will be responding.”
Vice President Kamala Harris also took time to address the comments on The Today Show, as well. In an interview with Savannah Guthrie, Harris said that “aggressive action” is the only thing that could potentially prevent a Russian invasion into Ukraine.
“We are clear and have been clear for quite some time, that our first approach and priority and preference is that these issues could be resolved diplomatically,” she said. “We have also been clear and continue to be clear, that if Russia takes aggressive action, it will be with severe cost.”
Later on Thursday, Psaki addressed the comments for the third time during the White House’s daily press briefing. “I can assure you that our allies and partners know exactly what the president’s position is,” she told reporters. “They knew what it was yesterday. They knew during the press conference. They knew after the press conference because we have been engaged closely [with them.]”
Ok: we “know” a few things about this situation. I assure you that, after reading the above, you STILL don’t know the whole story about the U.S. plans regarding Russia and this boiling situation with Ukraine. Vladimir Putin knows the American people don’t know what’s going on — and he loves that. In fact, he has publicly stated several times that “Americans don’t know what their President wants in their foreign policy interests. And that brings confusion to their nation.” (paraphrased)
Knowing that the president of Russia feels that way, doesn’t it make you a bit uncomfortable? If almost any of our previous presidents were in office, I would feel much better about the possibility of staring-down Vladimir Putin in the face of his threats of conquest in Europe. But Putin knows Biden: he knows how weak is the U.S. President. What makes me think so? Answer: Do you think Donald Trump would have allowed Putin to amass the army at the Russian border with Ukraine without stepping in diplomatically and drawing HIS redline in the sand with Vladimir?
If Trump did that, (and I’m certain he would) Putin would quickly look for a way out, if not to save face with world leaders, to save lives of Russian soldiers in a skirmish with the West he could never win.
In no scenario can I see Biden taking such actions. Putin certainly feels the same. Otherwise, why would he have NOT already stared-down Vladimir?
Expect Putin to invade Ukraine. And expect Biden to do nothing beyond his hollow threats of sanctions. Expect then for China to financially keep Russia from struggling from egregious U.S. sanctions if they occur.
What would Xi’s assistance look like? Money!
Biden has met his match. And it will NOT be just Ukraine who pays a price for the fecklessness of our President. All of Europe will pay.
We will, too.