It’s official. The oft-repeated warning from the Biden administration that a Russian invasion of Ukraine was imminent has come to pass.
On February 21st, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent so-called “peace-keeping” forces across Russia’s border with Ukraine into two eastern Ukrainian provinces, Donetsk and Luhansk, in the Donbass region. These provinces have been controlled by Russian-leaning Ukrainian separatists who have served as Russia’s proxies since 2014. However, to the rest of the world they are still considered within Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders.
Putin’s initial move in invading Ukraine followed his unilateral recognition of the “independence” of areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres denounced this decree as “a violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and inconsistent with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
But Putin could not care less what the UN Secretary General or the international community as a whole thinks. In his blistering speech on February 21st, the Russian president claimed that all of Ukraine belongs to Russia and should never have been created as a separate country in the first place.
Early in the morning of February 24th (Ukrainian time), Putin broadened the theater of war in Ukraine. He declared a “special military operation” in the country on the pretext of helping the people of Donbass. It was the equivalent of a declaration of war on all of Ukraine, punctuated by explosions that were heard in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, in the aftermath of Putin’s “special military operation” order. Missile attacks and ground troop assaults are undoubtedly on the way.
Putin pulled the trigger for a full-scale invasion at about the same time that Secretary General Guterres pleaded with Putin, during the second emergency session in a week of the UN Security Council, to step back from the brink of war. “I have only one thing to say from the bottom of my heart: President Putin,” the Secretary General said, “stop your troops from attacking Ukraine. Give peace a chance. Too many people have already died.”
The White House issued a statement Wednesday night condemning Russia’s “unprovoked and unjustified attack on Ukraine” and warning Russia of severe consequences. But this rhetoric is simply more of the same.
Putin has a clear end game in mind: he wants to take over all of Ukraine and is intent on achieving his objective on his own timetable. And he is very much willing to watch the Russian people suffer as he tries to restore several parts of the former Russian empire.
Biden is merely reactive and playing with a very weak hand.
The U.S. president talked tough before Russia’s invasion, giving the impression that very severe sanctions would be ready to go into force as soon as the first Russian troops and tanks crossed the Ukrainian border. All that Biden did right away, however, was to issue an executive order barring Americans from doing business in the Donetsk and Luhansk areas.
It took hours before a senior Biden administration official even used the word “invasion” to describe what was already underway. At first, the administration tried to downplay Russia’s military move into Ukraine, reminiscent of Biden’s attempt during a January press conference to draw a distinction between a minor “incursion” versus a full scale “invasion.”
German Chancellor Olaf Sholz took the initiative and suspended certification of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, at least for now. Germany has more to lose economically than the United States in taking that action (although natural gas from Russia is still flowing to Germany through existing pipelines).
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki tweeted that the Biden administration welcomed Germany’s announcement and said that the administration would be “following up” with its own measures. That’s precisely what Biden ended up doing, following Chancellor Sholz’s lead from behind.
When Biden spoke to the country Tuesday afternoon, he announced what he described as the first “tranche” of sanctions. “We’ll continue to escalate sanctions if Russia escalates,” he said.
Biden announced that the United States is imposing “full blocking” on two Russian banks and “comprehensive sanctions” on Russian sovereign debt.
“That means we’ve cut off Russia’s government from Western finance,” Biden said. “It can no longer raise money from the West and cannot trade in its new debt on our markets or European markets either.”
Biden also decided to impose sanctions on several Russian oligarchs and their families.
In addition to the sanctions that Biden announced, he said that he has “authorized additional movements of US forces and equipment, already stationed in Europe to strengthen our Baltic allies: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.” These countries are currently members of NATO. Ukraine is not. While declaring that the United States has no intention of sending American troops to fight Russia in Ukraine, he said that the U.S. “will defend every inch of NATO territory and abide by the commitments we made to NATO.”
Critics of President Biden’s handling of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine believe that Biden did not go nearly far enough in punishing Putin and his regime economically for initiating Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It took less than 36 hours for Putin to expand his invasion of Ukraine.
Why, for example, didn’t Biden immediately impose any sanctions directly on Putin himself and his family members?
Why didn’t Biden add to the sanctioned Russian banks that he announced on February 22nd another large Russian bank, Sberbank, which has been accused of transferring several million dollars from monies deposited in Ukraine to separatists fighting for Russian occupation? A senior U.S. administration official told reporters that U.S. sanctions against Sberbank could come later if Russia continues with its invasion of Ukraine. Let’s see what happens now that Russia has continued with its invasion.
Why didn’t Biden immediately impose export controls to cut off Russia from sophisticated technologies it needs to keep its warplanes flying and its communications systems working? Why didn’t Biden immediately require any firms using U.S. equipment or software in order to make technological products overseas to obtain a U.S. license before shipping them to any Russian companies that support Russia’s military-industrial complex even indirectly? Better yet, why not prohibit such shipments altogether?
Biden tried in his remarks on February 22nd to prepare the American people for the “costs” they will bear “in defending freedom” for Ukraine. He had in mind the impact on energy prices and “the pain the American people are feeling at the gas pump.” But the U.S. president failed to answer two fundamental questions.
Biden has not explained why the American people should sacrifice to preserve the borders of Ukraine when the U.S. president has opened the U.S.-Mexico border to droves of illegal immigrants and dangerous drugs such as fentanyl. Biden has decided to sacrifice Americans’ safety at home in pursuit of his radical pro-illegal immigration policies, while asking Americans to accept “costs” in order to safeguard the Ukrainians’ “freedom.” Former President Donald Trump’s America First policies would not have entertained such perverted priorities.
Biden has also not explained why Americans should swallow even higher costs at the gas pump to defend Ukraine’s “freedom” so long as Biden’s war on fossil fuels continues to drive the rise in gas prices. The United States had achieved energy independence on Trump’s watch, which Biden sabotaged with his radical green agenda.
The U.S. president said during his February 22nd remarks that his administration is “using every tool at our disposal to protect American businesses and consumers from rising prices at the pump.” He added, “We’re executing a plan in coordination with major oil-producing consumers and producers toward a collective investment to secure stability and global energy supplies.”
If that were so, why didn’t Biden issue an executive order immediately reinstating the permit to enable completion of the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline? Why didn’t he offer financial assistance to the pipeline’s Canadian developer to restore the project that it had abandoned because of Biden’s cancellation of the U.S. permit? Shouldn’t that have been part of Biden’s self-proclaimed “collective investment” to secure global energy supplies?
Why didn’t Biden immediately open up federal lands and waters to oil and natural gas exploration and drilling? Just days before Biden’s February 22nd remarks, the Biden administration did the very opposite.
The New York Times reported that the administration “is indefinitely freezing decisions about new federal oil and gas drilling as part of a legal brawl with Republican-led states that could significantly impact President Biden’s plans to tackle climate change.” The administration is insisting on including the “social cost of carbon,” which, according to the Times article, “is designed to underline the potential economic threats from greenhouse gas emissions so they can be compared to the economic benefits from acts like oil drilling.”
After a federal district court judge halted the use of a social cost metric because it would “artificially increase the cost estimates” of oil and gas drilling, the Biden administration decided to delay indefinitely the permitting and leasing for such drilling on federal properties. A spokesperson for the Biden Interior Department explained that her agency “is committed to ensuring its programs account for climate impacts.”
Biden could have easily reversed this decision as part of his response to the Russian invasion. This would have concretely demonstrated his self-proclaimed intent to “limit the pain the American people are feeling at the gas pump.” But the U.S. president chose to stick with the far-left green energy activists rather than help the American people pay for their necessities here and now.
With energy independence, the U.S. would have far more leverage to blunt Russia’s efforts to weaponize its energy resources. Biden has taken that away. According to Global Energy, “Russia producers nearly tripled shipments of oil to the United States in 2021.”
The sanctions imposed so far, and the threat of tougher sanctions to come, are obviously not deterring Putin as he proceeds with his extensive attacks on Ukraine. Putin has China to back up the Russian economy with purchases of Russian oil, technology exports, and financial assistance. Moreover, oil prices remain high while Europe and the U.S. remain dependent on Russian energy resources. Russia’s coffers are filling up with revenues to pay for Putin’s pursuit of his territorial ambitions.
Putin is ready to retaliate against sanctions by shutting off the supply of oil and natural gas from Russia to the U.S. and Europe, upon which they have become so dependent. Putin’s arsenal also includes potential cyberattacks against key U.S. and European infrastructure facilities.
President Biden expects that the American people will bear “costs” in defending Ukraine’s “freedom.” Many Americans are not eager to make such sacrifices, especially after Biden has already managed to impose significant costs on the American people all by himself.