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Russia President Vladimir Putin is on the march in Eurasia. From Ukraine to Kazakhstan to Belarus and beyond, Moscow’s spymaster is waging what his strategists term “new generation warfare.”
Having deployed cyberhackers who attacked America’s burgers and gas stations and stole secrets from government agencies, Russia presses on with generating “controlled chaos” in Europe. Putin mobilized a massive contingent of combat-ready troops and weaponry that are encircling Ukraine. Russian forces are flowing into Belarus to conduct joint wargames, but potentially be used in an invasion of Ukraine.
Last week, several Ukrainian government agencies were hit with cyberattacks likely executed by Russian or Belarussian intelligence operatives or proxies. The week before, Putin tested out a potential model for attacking Ukraine in Kazakhstan, deploying “peacekeeping” forces to quell protests against the country’s Kremlin-backed leaders. Why is Putin acting up? Why now?
It is not by chance that Putin chose Joe Biden’s presidency as a window of opportunity to consummate his imperial ambitions and secure his legacy as a mighty leader. The Russians have profiled President Biden as unable to mount a serious challenge to Putin and Russia’s aggressive foreign policy. For decades, based on a bipartisan policy, the U.S. was able to check Russia, precluding Moscow from reclaiming its perceived sphere of influence and dominating its post-Soviet neighbors. Biden’s inept policies and his infirmity as a leader have convinced Putin that he can run circles around the US commander in chief. What the Russians see in Biden is a deteriorating decision-making ability, a naïve predisposition for friendly relations with Russia, and compromising links between Russian oligarchs and Biden’s son Hunter.
On Biden’s inauguration day, the Russian language version of Forbes magazine ran a profile of the new US president. The author reminded that it was Vice President Biden, under the Obama Administration, who initiated efforts to establish working relations with Russia, having dispatched Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to Moscow with a mistranslated “reset” button. The profile cited a 2009 New York Times article which concluded that Biden’s tone during a speech at a security conference was more conciliatory than the Bush administration’s with regard to Russia. It also noted that Biden wanted compromise with Moscow on missile defense, which Russia views as threatening their security.
The Russians suspect that Biden is cognitively impaired. They mock Biden’s verbal gaffes. Last March, the former head of Russia’s ruling party, Andrej Turchak, accused Biden of having age-related dementia. The Russian press criticized Biden for calling Putin a “killer” in an interview, characterizing Biden as having had a temper tantrum. The Russians frequently characterize Biden’s verbal threats of sanctions and retaliation against Russian cyberattacks as signs of frustration and helplessness. Russian spy services have followed closely the Hunter Biden’s laptop debacle, which revealed President Biden’s secret involvement in his son’s business shenanigans. The Russian press has written about Hunter Biden’s corrupt dealings, saying he received millions of dollars from foreigners, including from the Ukrainian company Burisma and from the super wealthy widow of a former Moscow Mayor, Yuriy Luzhkov, Elena Baturina.
Having no respect for the U.S. chief executive, it is no wonder that Putin feels free to issue ultimatums to Biden, to menace Ukraine, and to threaten to deploy troops and weapon systems in Cuba and Venezuela. Putin has already finagled a promise from Biden that the US will not intervene militarily if Russia attacks Ukraine.
Most disturbingly, last week, U.S. diplomats serving in Europe were struck again by the bizarre neurological ailment called the Havana Syndrome. Russia is the most likely culprit behind these horrendous attacks, which cause debilitating health problems, including brain damage. The timing and the place of the attack, coinciding with the US-Russian meetings in Europe to deescalate the crisis in Ukraine, further point to Putin’s hand trying to intimidate meek Biden.
The Russians, who watch U.S. domestic politics very closely, are keenly aware that Biden’s approval ratings are sliding into the abyss as the US faces problems like inflation, crime, illegal immigration, and foreign policy fiascos like the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan. Biden’s incompetence and declining stature on the world stage has convinced Putin the timing is right for him to reorder the chess pieces in Europe before a strong U.S. leader comes to power and upsets the Russian’s scheme.
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