As Vladimir Putin’s forces sweep through Ukraine, the Biden administration’s strategy toward Russia – both in the weeks leading up to the invasion and in the hours since it began – has proven woefully ineffective at even forcing the Russian leader to flinch in his ruthless quest for power. It is time for a return to the strong and effective deterrent strategies undertaken by President Trump and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, which went well beyond sanctions.
The situation on the ground in Ukraine is nothing short of horrific. Although death tolls are still unclear, at least 40 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the initial missile attacks, with dozens more wounded. Civilians have also been caught in the crossfire, as the Russians target hospitals and other non-military targets. It is feared that the civilian fatalities have already exceeded 100. However, the Ukrainian army captured at least 60 Russians soldiers, killed dozens, and destroyed many jets, tanks, and armored vehicles.
The mercilessness of the Kremlin-sponsored ruling groups in the semi-autonomous Donetsk and Luhansk regions is staggering. One local pro-Russian militia went as far as crippling men by shooting them in the spine to punish them for refusing to join Moscow-aligned groups. A grenade wounded one dissident, while others have been beaten in the streets.
The same cruelty and barbarity have characterized the invading Russian army, which has launched more than 30 cruise missile strikes targeting civilian infrastructure, including hospitals and blocks of apartments in the Eastern part of the country. According to the Ukrainian President’s spokesman, Putin intends to break off part of Ukraine, topple the government, and create maximum panic.
Adding to Putin’s advantage is his effective takeover of Belarus earlier this week, something that has been relatively ignored by the American media. “What we see in Belorussia [Belarus] today can be defined as the beginning of the military occupation,” stated Senior Advisor to Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. Estonian Defense Minister Kalle Laanet stated, “it is two states, one leader, and they are together,” referring to Belarus and Russia. After Putin ordered the attack against Ukraine, the Russia army launched at least four ballistic missiles from the territory of Belarus.
Nonetheless, despite being severely outnumbered, the Ukrainian defenders have carried on valiantly. In one case, a Ukrainian Defense Ministry official stated that two eighteen-year-old soldiers halted Russian tanks in the Kharkiv region. Hundreds of defenders held Russian fire at the border until late in the afternoon Thursday.
But despite their heroic defense of their country, Russia’s superior numbers and equipment are likely soon to overrun Ukraine’s military. Russia already has air superiority over the country, and a substantial advantage in tanks and artillery weapons.
In the wake of this ongoing disaster, Europe must immediately recognize the failure of President Biden’s strategy and the need for a new security posture on the continent. Mr. Putin has exposed the West’s unwillingness to defend Western Civilization and uncovered the fundamental weakness of President Biden’s diplomacy.
Though Biden tried to look tough, the truth now appears to be the exact opposite. Even as Russia swept through the country, it was U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson who spoke with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy, not Biden. It was Johnson who openly advocated to kick Russia out of the SWIFT international banking system – perhaps the most devastating sanction that the West could level on Putin.
Yet at his press conference on Thursday, Biden said that he was not considering SWIFT sanctions, instead dubiously insisting that the sanctions he was implementing were “stronger than SWIFT.” How, exactly, they are stronger the U.S. President failed to mention.
This presents a marked contrast to Donald Trump’s approach to dealing with Russia. Mr. Trump’s administration pursued a long-term strategy oriented on investment in the economic, military, and strategic potential to empower Central Europe, including the Baltic states. The same rationale was a core of Reagan’s victorious Cold War strategy, which used Poland as a wedge against Moscow to break up the Soviet bloc. This strategy should be undertaken once more.
In his Warsaw speech in 2017, Mr. Trump correctly recognized and emphasized that the will to defend Western Civilization is crucial. This will can be found in Central Europe, or “New Europe,” as former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called Poland, the Baltic states, and Romania, whose soldiers served arm-in-arm with Americans in Iraq.
The United States should limit its presence in Europe to the absolute minimum. The U.S. Army should invest more in skills of the New Europe’s officers, training them in the United States to create a deterrent to Putin’s recruits. With investment loans, New Europe should finance a build-up of its armies and create a pan-regional, combined force that would outnumber the Russians.
Unlike Old Europe, New Europe has a determination and is ready to face Putin’s regime. For instance, Poland – anticipating an energy crisis – has already taken steps to diversify its gas supplies and filled up its underground storage basins. That was an example of Poland First policies – while Old Europe’s confidence in its decision to rely on Russian energy now leaves them at the mercy of Putin.
Unlike Mr. Trump’s reality-based strategy, Mr. Biden’s decisions include military aid that is inadequate, intelligence that is imprecise, and sanctions that are ineffective.
Mr. Trump’s America First agenda was a call for others to reformulate their bureaucratically fogged goals to fit their countries’ obvious interests and urgent priorities, and then work together on that basis: Ukraine First, Romania First, France First, Poland First and U.K. First. This approach was vindicated this week, and we have no time to lose in implementing it in every country to defend Western Civilization from further attack.