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Who Trusts Joe Biden to Stand Up to Vladimir Putin?

Then-Vice President Joe Biden shakes hands with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during their meeting in Moscow in 2011. (Alexander Natruskin/Reuters)

David Ignatius wrote yesterday that the CIA and the Biden administration are seriously worried about another Russian invasion of Ukraine:

Blinken is likely to warn NATO allies Wednesday that Putin may be preparing a ploy in which he falsely claims that Russian-backed forces have been attacked by Ukraine, as a pretext for taking action. Blinken said last month that Putin made such false claims when he invaded Ukraine in 2014, and that they’re part of his “playbook.”

Ignatius concludes his column by declaring, if “Putin invades Ukraine, the United States and its allies are discussing this week how to make him pay as heavy a cost as possible.”

One can forgive the Ukrainians for not feeling reassured, because the last time Vladimir Putin moved a lot of troops into Ukrainian territory and seized Crimea, one of the U.S. officials who pledged serious consequences was… Joe Biden.

Vice President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that Russia’s treaty to annex Crimea was a “blatant violation of international law” and promised more sanctions against Moscow.

Biden said Russia had carried out a “brazen military incursion” that “ratcheted up ethnic tensions,” and that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea was “nothing more than a land grab.”

After Russia invaded Crimea, the U.S. imposed some economic and trade sanctions, canceled military consultations, and made other minor moves like declining to send a presidential delegation to the Paralympic Games in Sochi. But those moves certainly didn’t leave Putin feeling chastened or intimidated. The actions were no more memorable or consequential than the Obama administration’s excruciatingly slow-footed response to Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 being shot down by Russian forces in Ukraine. Once a regime has escaped consequences for accidentally shooting down a passenger airliner… why should they worry about any other international condemnation? It’s all just words.

Like Obama, Biden’s instinctive response to international aggression is to meet with allies and offer a strongly worded statement denouncing the aggression. Then they enact some sanctions that don’t really hurt the autocrat who made the decision to invade… and then the world moves on. The crisis fades from the headlines. Domestic problems return to the spotlight. Eventually, the outrageous presence of Russian soldiers on foreign soil becomes part of the new status quo… until the next crisis.

It’s all reminiscent of the Biden administration’s stubborn insistence that it has serious leverage over the Taliban, leverage that never seems to show itself or generate any good results.

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