Biden’s lame response won’t be enough to stop defiant madman Putin

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That’s President Joe Biden’s response to Russia’s move into Ukraine? That meandering finger-wag of a speech? Does he want to stop Vladimir Putin’s land-grab or not?

Yes, Biden on Tuesday denounced Putin’s actions. He called them “the beginning of a Russian invasion” and added that they warranted a “firm response.”

The president unveiled a “first tranche” of sanctions, including “blocking” Russia’s VEB bank, military bank and sovereign debt. He vowed to penalize Russia’s elite and halt progress on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. He’ll also send additional aid to Ukraine and deployments to the region.

These are essential steps. But they’re far from sufficient to stop the Moscow madman. And, indeed, Biden’s unconvincing speech might actually embolden Putin.

The president, for example, essentially took US military action off the table. Why? No one wants to rush into a war with Russia. But removing the option — and saying so publicly — assures Putin that he’ll face only limited consequences for marching on to Kyiv.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a joint news conference with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev following their talks in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia
Putin’s defiance is a challenge that requires maximum penalties now.

Biden’s phased roll-out of sanctions may send a similarly wrong message: If you take small areas of Ukraine, we’ll only impose a fraction of the sanctions we have in mind. Putin may see that as license to proceed until penalties grow worse. Yet why not squeeze him now with as much social, economic and political pressure as possible? That may be the only way to stop him.

Let’s face it: Putin sees Ukraine as part of Russia and appears intent on taking it, in the belief that the world will let him. That thinking is dangerous not just for Ukraine but the whole world. Why, after all, would anyone expect Putin to stop there? And how many other greedy despots and power-seeking regimes will be likewise tempted to attack other nations? Much of the world could be aflame before long.

Putin’s defiance is a challenge that requires maximum penalties now. Biden may prefer to wait for the situation to turn worse, but by then it may be too late.

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