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But his measured reaction still raises fundamental questions about whether he is fulfilling his threat to become Russia’s president. Vladimir Putin pay an extremely high price.
It is absolutely Orwellian to say that the entry of Kremlin troops into the two regions, partly controlled by Russian separatists, is not an invasion. It is even more absurd for Putin to claim that these are “peacekeepers”, one of the many lies he spews throughout this fictional crisis.
Many Russians may believe the fabrication that it protects ethnic Russians from genocide or a non-existent attack by the Ukrainian government, but the world is not buying it. Even the idea that he would be open for a summit with Biden this week was an outright lie, along with his diplomatic recognition of the breakaway areas.
However, the White House initially refused to call Putin’s aggression an “invasion,” and the deputy national security adviser used the term only when pressed by CNN. More importantly, Biden’s top officials have made it clear that the move will not lead to massive financial sanctions, which the president and our NATO allies acted as the main deterrent to stopping Putin. And the press is very skeptical.
Diplomacy “tit for the eye.”
It seems like a semantic game, a return to when Biden said last month that a “minor invasion” could spark a fight between allies over how to react, and he had to back down under considerable pressure. But imposing sanctions limited to separatist areas is not what he promised, but simply diplomacy that seems unsuitable for this historic challenge.
In his televised speech, Biden spoke harshly, but embodied the same contradiction. If Putin is “cutting a big chunk out of Ukraine” when he has committed a “blatant violation of international law”, why sanctions for the junior league? I’m not saying they bite a little, but that’s part of what the president says will happen when Russian troops enter. Now he is holding back.
Sending troops across the border of a sovereign country is an invasion, regardless of number and location. Would we have been comforted in any way if foreign troops had landed on Long Island but not marched on New York?
As Ukrainian Foreign Minister Tony Blinken told the press on Tuesday: “Invasion is invasion.”
Calling Biden a bluff
For example, Putin will not go beyond the rebel regions. Would he evade broader sanctions despite the invasion until the West sighs with relief?
“Russia has occupied these regions since 2014,” a senior official told reporters Monday night. And what? This is an escalation, and at the moment – although things may change quickly – Putin called Biden a bluff.
The former KGB agent made no secret of his ambitions to reassemble pieces of the old Soviet Union. He completely rewrites history, arguing that Ukraine has no right to exist.
According to The New York Times, he blames Lenin for the creation of modern Ukraine, but allowed it autonomy within the Soviet empire, and Gorbachev – in the “madness” that gave the country independence. But this is one of the biggest lies of all: the Ukrainian people voted overwhelmingly for independence in the 1991 democratic referendum.
A unilateral decision to annul a neighbor’s existence is not the way civilized countries operate, and it shows that Putin will not stop with breakaway provinces. Failure to respond to such open aggression would mean not only a new Cold War, but also the collapse of NATO’s security blanket, which has maintained a shaky peace since 1945.
Political implications in the United States
Now to the political implications here at home.
Some conservative experts have supported Biden’s decision with the crisis so far, but others see him as a weak and incompetent leader who “allowed” it to happen. I would just ask, if you accept the view that the two nuclear powers are not going to wage a ground war in a country on the threshold of Russia, what else could he do?
Biden rallied the West with sanctions – keep in mind that Russia’s economy is smaller than Italy’s – and warned Putin, personally and publicly, that he would pay a very high price for entering Ukraine. He also constantly exposed the Kremlin’s claims about the fake flag. The president never said he could stop the invasion; indeed, he continued to predict it. Mitch McConnell, for his part, simply asked Biden “not to waste time” on imposing “destructive” sanctions.
Okay, that’s a fact. But it is also a fact that Trump has sought friendly relations with Putin, despite some friction, arguing that the two countries had no reason to be fierce rivals. And much of the Republican Party went together. There is no need to interfere with Russian interference in the 2016 election to conclude that Trump was trying to sell Putin as a smart partner when history has shown that he is not alone.
Don’t take my word for it. Trump on Tuesday only praised Putin, and also expected that this-would-not-be-would-be-if-I-was. He called Putin’s move “genius.” He called it “savvy.” He did not express concern for Ukraine – at the heart of the first impeachment was his willingness to postpone military aid, demanding dirt on Joe Biden.
No one knows what the short term will bring, but I can’t help but feel that we have just entered a new, more volatile, more dangerous stage of world history.