July 23, 2024

v Putin

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 19 March 2021WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUNDToday’s Events in Historical PerspectiveAmerica’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932Biden v. PutinBy Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift          WASHINGTON — Russian President Vladimir Putin will go down in history as one of the most dangerous leaders of the 21st century. He has had numerous people assassinated; he has crushed dissent in his country; he has amassed a huge ill-gotten hidden fortune; he invaded Ukraine and annexed the Crimea; and his interference in U.S. presidential elections in 2016 and 2020 fueled internal dissent in the United States about the legitimacy of our electoral process and democracy itself.          No wonder President Biden was spoiling for a fight when ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked him about his relationship with Putin. He said when he was vice president and met with Putin, he told him he had “no soul” and that Putin responded, “We understand one another.” The genesis of the story goes back to President George W. Bush, a born-again Christian who famously said he looked into his eyes when Putin first became president and said, “I saw his soul.”          It’s a given after President Trump’s cozy relationship with Putin that Biden will be tougher, but how? In the ABC interview, he said Putin was a “killer” and he would “pay a price” for meddling in U.S. elections. A newly de-classified report issued by the Biden administration says Russian intelligence agents worked with Trump allies in last year’s presidential election to undermine Biden’s chances.          The report does not identify the Trump allies by name, but it’s obvious that former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani is among them. The report says Russia and Iran were the principal actors trying to influence the U.S. election, and that China did not mount a similar campaign. The finding by the U.S. intelligence community contradicts statements from Trump officials that China was the most aggressive among these nations in election interference, and Biden was the beneficiary.          One area the report did not touch is a story that circulated last year alleging that Russia was offering bounties to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. If proven true, it would increase the tension between Putin and Biden many times over. As it is, Putin reacted angrily and sarcastically to Biden’s comments that he is soulless and a killer, saying, “It takes one to know one.” He also called home the Russian ambassador to address what he called the “irreversible deterioration” in the U.S.-Russia relationship.          Biden could slap more sanctions on Russia, but sanctions have become almost meaningless in affecting any behavioral change. Putin wants to upset the balance of power, and anything that makes him look consequential on the world stage furthers that goal. He’s never gotten over the loss of the Soviet empire and the subsequent erosion of Russia’s status as a superpower.          Russia is not an economic power. The only assets that keep Putin in the game are his nuclear arsenal and the natural resources in Russia’s large land mass. He has so far acted responsibly on the nuclear front, and from the Russian point of view he is wisely leveraging the country’s natural gas.          The underwater pipeline from Russia through Germany to deliver this valuable source of energy to Europe is more than 90 percent complete, and the United States wants to keep it that way. Trump favored the pipeline, but Biden is in agreement with the U.S. intelligence community that having Putin control a significant portion of Europe’s energy is not a wise move.          The United States doesn’t need Russia’s natural gas; Germany does. So, what levers of power does Biden have to work his will? He’s called out Putin in a way Trump never did. Can he turn tough words into tough actions?                    Douglas Cohn’s latest books are World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers) and The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency.          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn          © 2021 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.          END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND


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