AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Abbott
In the weeks following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Biden promised to make Putin a “pariah” on the international stage, immediately imposing heavy sanctions on Russia and calling for all nations to do the same. Yet now, almost five months after the first Russian troops crossed into Ukraine, the war is still ongoing, and the outcome remains uncertain. His effort to galvanize the West behind the United States and force Putin to back down has failed, adding another foreign policy fiasco to his already woeful record as President.
While the Ukrainian army has continued its tenacious defense of key cities, according to recent reports, Putin now appears firmly in control of more than 20% of Ukraine, and the Russian army is still on the march. While Putin initially launched the invasion under the guise of “liberating” Ukraine’s westernmost territories from “Nazism,” his early strategy suggested his true goal was to occupy the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and install a puppet government similar to the one he created in Crimea. When that strategy failed, Russian forces were repulsed from much of western Ukraine, and the invasion initially faltered. Since then, however, Russia has refocused its efforts on occupying the westernmost territories in the Donbas region of Ukraine, turning the conflict into what will likely be a long and costly war.
Economically, while Western sanctions have been punishing to certain sectors of the Russian economy, others are experiencing unprecedented growth. Following the invasion of Crimea in 2014, Russia began an aggressive economic reorientation to “sanction-proof” itself from western powers. As noted in a recent NPR article, in 2013 “Russia imported about half of its food; but today, it is self-sufficient in basic food supplies and has even become a significant exporter of items like grains and wheat.” In June, the Russian Ruble also hit its strongest level in nearly seven years. Part of the explanation for this is that Russia long ago began aggressively reducing its foreign debt and amassing large amounts of foreign currency. While Russia can’t continue its war in Ukraine forever, and Putin remains in a precarious position, it is now safe to say that the Russian economy has proven far more resilient than most Western leaders anticipated, even as Ukraine becomes more desperate and closer to being forced to the negotiating table.
Meanwhile, Europe and the United States have suddenly found that their massive globalization push has left them dangerously vulnerable to a Russian economic counterpunch. For example, Germany has spent years touting its shuttering of coal plants and eliminating its production of fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy. While they did eliminate domestic supply, they were still heavily reliant on fossil fuels imported from Russia. Thus, when the invasion began, Germany was in a position where it was forced to choose between breaking with the West and continuing to import Russian energy or standing with its allies and risking its cities going dark. In June, Germany, Austria, Italy, and the Netherlands announced that they would reopen the coal plants they celebrated shuttering only years earlier. At the same time, energy prices in the United States – already on the rise thanks to the Biden administration’s war on American energy – have skyrocketed, leading to even more economic turmoil. This begs the question of who these sanctions damage more – Russia or the West?
Meanwhile, China has enabled Russia to escape some of the worst damage from the Western pressure campaign. While the Chinese Communist Party is publicly respecting the international sanctions against Russia, they are quietly providing Putin with critical lifelines. Russia is now exporting 50% more oil to China than before the invasion, providing essential economic relief. Although the two nations are not true allies, they have shared interests on the international stage. While Biden would like to increase pressure on China and force them to cut ties with Russia, doing so would likely lead to an economic catastrophe for the West. Unlike Russia, the West has only deepened its reliance on foreign goods over the last decade, specifically from China.
Putin has made clear in several addresses this year that his goal is to see an eastern sphere of influence re-established. It’s likely that he doesn’t want McDonald’s, Walmart, or any other western commerce in the East and welcomes their exit. His invasion showed that he never feared breaking away from the West, and with its aggressive sanctions regime, the United States and Europe may have helped him. While China cannot economically afford to break away similarly, they also want to see western influence eliminated in the Pacific, most notably in Taiwan. Biden has pledged to defend the island, yet doing so raises the terrifying prospect of nuclear war with China.
While Putin has been planning his invasion for years, many ask why now? After all, radical left Democrats asserted that former President Trump was “soft” on Putin, so why not invade when Trump was President? In hindsight, Trump became the only President of the 21st century under whose watch Putin did not expand his reach.
Here another international catastrophe, Biden’s calamitous exit from Afghanistan, may provide some explanation for Putin’s aggression. To Putin, the debacle must have seemed evidence enough that America had lost the will to fight. To make matters worse, Biden unrepentantly defended his handling of the situation, proving that he had lost touch with reality completely. Yet neither Putin, nor Xi, nor the American people were fooled, something which has undoubtedly led 85% of Americans to say the country is headed in the wrong direction.
Biden’s decades of foreign policy experience may have won him credit from the media in 2020, but his actual record in office has left American confidence faltering, Russia and China emboldened, and the world shaken.
Andrew Abbott is the pen name of a writer and public affairs consultant with over a decade of experience in DC at the intersection of politics and culture.
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