I’m no fan of Vladimir Putin, but I feel a sinking sense of shame when I envision relations between the former KGB agent who enjoys skydiving with bald eagles or whatever and President Joe Biden, a man who is worried he’ll get in trouble with his own staff if he takes too many questions from reporters.
That’s right, yet another embarrassing — and downright chilling — aspect of the Biden presidency is that he’s now the man we need to rely on to keep relations with the Kremlin civil without putting our country even further into crippling debt. And, boy, does it look like our POTUS is geared up to fail miserably on both counts.
Earlier this week, as NATO partners were conducting military exercises in Eastern Europe, Russia left nearly 80,000 troops along its border with Ukraine despite a previous promise to withdraw them, The New York Times reported Wednesday.
In April, Moscow deployed 100,000 troops to the region to conduct its own military exercises, causing quite a bit of anxiety in the West as it exceeded the military presence that had been used to annex Crimea in 2014.
On April 22, according to Reuters, Russia announced it was withdrawing the troops, “helping to smooth preparations for a summit between Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin that Biden would like to take place next month.”
It hasn’t quite worked out that way.
“The Russian military did order some units back to their barracks by May 1 — and they did move from the border,” according to officials, The Times reported. “But many of the units left their trucks and armored vehicles behind, a signal that they could go back if President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia decided to deploy them again.”
The Times reported that the Biden administration views the move as a clear signal that Moscow is flexing its military might at the allied forces as Ukraine makes overtures to joining NATO.
“The big NATO exercise almost certainly has influenced that Russian decision to maintain a significant troop presence on the Russian-Ukrainian border,” retired Adm. James G. Stavridis, a former NATO commander, told the newspaper. “The message Vladimir Putin seeks to send is simple: Ukraine should not even think about a NATO membership. Nor should NATO offer one. Any move in that direction will lead to a Russian intervention.”
Putin doesn’t ever seem to have had any intention of withdrawing his forces from the border with Ukraine, it appears, and seems to rather be curious how Biden will react.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, for his part, denounced Russia’s “reckless and aggressive” behavior and expressed strong support for Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky’s efforts to protect Ukraine sovereignty in a visit to Kyiv on Tuesday, according to Reuters, although he did not specify Washington’s stance on Ukraine’s NATO aspirations.
“I can tell you, Mr. President, that we stand strongly with you, partners do as well. I heard the same thing when I was at NATO a couple of weeks ago and we look to Russia to cease reckless and aggressive actions,” he told Zelensky, according to Reuters.
On Tuesday, Biden, who Blinken said would also like to meet with Zelensky, said it was his “hope and expectation” to meet with Putin while visiting Europe in June in part to attend a NATO summit in Brussels.
“The administration has paired the offer of a meeting, an important symbol of Moscow’s continuing influence on the world stage, with a toughening of sanctions on Russia for its cyberattacks, election meddling, threats against Ukraine and poisoning of Aleksei A. Navalny, the opposition leader,” The Times noted.
Putin’s decision to leave such a massive number of troops in the region as NATO forces were conducting exercises, which officially began Tuesday, could have been meant to clearly display his ability to “dwarf” the American-led exercise, according to one official cited by the newspaper.
Over the next two months, 28,000 troops from the United States and European allies will be participating in Defender Europe in Albania and other parts of Eastern Europe. It’s the largest exercise of its kind in 25 years, Army Times reported.
The NATO-led exercise Steadfast Defender 21 is scheduled over the next month in Romania and Portugal.
The tension in the region is not going anywhere. Russia is on its home turf, however, and is signaling plainly that it has the capacity to move around a lot of men and weapons in the region — and isn’t afraid to show it.
Putin basically just faked our POTUS out — he said he’d withdraw his troops and instead, basically just stayed put as NATO forces conducted its exercises. Things could easily get ugly very quickly if further aggression is suspected by either side.
Meanwhile, while Russia can cheaply and easily maintain such a military presence on its border with Ukraine, the United States has to fund its own troops as well as much of NATO’s budget and mobilize these forces in the region.
Biden seems to be capable of two things on the world stage: Signaling weakness and adding to our already crippling federal defense budget.
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