Biden slams Russia as invasion reveals Putin’s litany of lies

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As the largest European land war since 1945 explodes, some things are painfully clear:

Vladimir Putin lied every step of the way, as he insisted that he was pulling back troops, then that he only wanted to protect the rebellious eastern provinces of Ukraine, then that Ukraine has no right to exist, and now that he’s protecting its citizens against “neo-Nazi” genocide.

President Biden told the truth every step of the way, exposing Putin’s false-flag fictions and insistence he hadn’t decided to invade a sovereign country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the nation from Moscow, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022.
(Russian Presidential Press Service via AP)

Politicians and pundits who dismissed these warnings and tried to blame this geopolitical crisis on Biden, or doubted or excused Putin’s intentions, were wrong.

There is ample room to criticize the president’s tactics, or the West’s delusion that Russia would be deterred by the threat of tough financial sanctions, since its autocratic leader has already factored in that cost of doing business. But, given the near-universal consensus that two nuclear powers should not be fighting a ground war, especially on Russia’s border, Biden did not have many cards to play.

Do Americans care?

There is another line of thought among those in the media and politics who, even if they issue ritual denunciations of Putin, believe that most Americans do not care much about Ukraine. Now I can offer geopolitical arguments for why this is a test of the NATO alliance that was founded in the last century to deter Soviet aggression, especially with Putin trying to reassemble pieces of that collapsed empire.

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But on a practical level, we are looking at more than just rising energy prices. The impact on the world economy could have severe repercussions. A massive refugee crisis will likely unfold. This is, not to put too fine a point on it, an international disaster.

President Biden delivers remarks about Russia's "unprovoked and unjustified" military invasion of neighboring Ukraine in the East Room of the White House on Feb.  24, 2022 in Washington, DC.

President Biden delivers remarks about Russia’s “unprovoked and unjustified” military invasion of neighboring Ukraine in the East Room of the White House on Feb. 24, 2022 in Washington, DC.
(Getty Images)

Biden delivered the most forceful speech of his presidency Thursday, accusing the Russian dictator of “naked aggression,” of a “desire for empire by any means necessary.… Putin will be a pariah on the international stage.” He unveiled the sweeping sanctions designed to cripple Moscow’s banking system, choke off exports and decimate the country’s economy, which he acknowledged would cause pain at home as well.

In taking reporters’ questions, the president got diverted by CNN into a discussion of why he did not personally sanction Putin (a symbolic move that would be impossible to enforce) or why there aren’t even greater sanctions (Europe isn’t on board). Biden was asked why the threat of sanctions had not prevented the invasion (he never claimed it would) or whether they would change Putin’s behavior now (he said the financial crackdown needs time to work).

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Disdain for the truth

Putin’s utter disdain for the truth extends to the way he has crushed a free press in his country. Russia’s Internet regulator has threatened to fine or ban any media outlet that goes beyond “information from official Russian sources” about Ukraine. In other words, they are reduced to propaganda organs.

There is little doubt, as casualties mount, that the undermanned and overmatched Ukrainians will be defeated. The Kremlin’s initial airstrikes were aimed at military targets, but there is no assurance that civilian areas will not be bombed if that’s deemed necessary.

New York Times columnist Bret Stephens makes an interesting observation:

“Putin wants Ukraine under his thumb much more than the West wants to keep Ukraine in its orbit, and he’s willing to pay a higher price to get it. For the West, Ukraine is another complex crisis of which it will eventually tire. A third advantage is the correlation of wills: Putin wants to change the geopolitical order of Europe and is prepared to take large risks to do it. The Biden administration wants to preserve a shaky and increasingly lifeless status quo. “

I’ve often thought about this question of national will. The US had overwhelming firepower in Vietnam, but the North outlasted us with guerrilla tactics until the war waged by Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon lost popular support.

Afghan people climb atop a plane as they wait at the Kabul airport in Kabul on Aug.  16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan's 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city's airport trying to flee the group's feared hardline brand of Islamist rule.

Afghan people climb atop a plane as they wait at the Kabul airport in Kabul on Aug. 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan’s 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city’s airport trying to flee the group’s feared hardline brand of Islamist rule.
(Getty Images)

America poured enormous resources into Afghanistan, but after two decades the people there had hung on to the point where Donald Trump made plans to withdraw and Biden executed those plans in calamitous fashion. The Afghans outlasted the Soviets as well; they did not have to win, only avoid losing.

Motives count

Motives count, of course. Both Vietnam and Afghanistan were civil wars. The US was fighting Soviet-backed Communism in trying to aid Saigon; it was trying to root out terrorism tolerated by Kabul after 9/11. Putin, by contrast, has no real justification for this invasion.

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Trump may praise Putin as a genius, but the Russian leader is an increasingly irrational actor willing to wreak havoc on the world to pursue his fantasy of rebuilding the evil empire.

I do not want to sound apocalyptic, but what is happening in Ukraine is all too reminiscent of Hitler invading Poland in 1939. Clearly the West does not want to go down the road of appeasement, but if Putin gets away with this – as he did in annexing Crimea eight years ago – he will only be emboldened.

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If the war in Ukraine drags on – or becomes a contested occupation – how long will it remain a top story in the American media? With no US troops directly involved, the press will drift back to focusing on inflation, the midterms, the virus and Jan. 6?

That would be an inadvertent gift to Vladimir Putin.

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