Russia’s actions will test Biden. But it doesn’t follow that Vladimir Putin is taking these actions for that purpose.
I think it’s true, however, that our adversaries are far more likely to take aggressive action against our allies when they sense weakness in a new American president. One of Putin’s predecessors in the Kremlin repeatedly tested the inexperienced President Kennedy until he finally showed during the Cuban missile crisis that he was up to the challenge.
Biden is the opposite of inexperienced, but it’s likely that Putin smells weakness. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Russia never amassed troops on the Ukraine border at levels close to the current ones while Donald Trump, whom the Democrats ridiculously claimed was a stooge of Putin, was president.
Unfortunately, so far Biden’s approach to Russia is the opposite of Trump’s. Biden recently characterized Putin as a “killer.” We shouldn’t assume that this statement caused Putin to move troops to the Ukraine border, but it may have made him all the more eager to “test” Biden.
And what purpose did Biden’s name calling serve? None that I can think of other than to win praise from his supporters, especially those in the media, by sounding different than his predecessor.
Trump’s approach has much more to recommend it. He eschewed the name calling, but demonstrated his intolerance of Russian misconduct through sanctions and by sending Javelin missiles to Ukraine, among other things. The Obama administration had refused to send lethal aid.
On Russia, Trump spoke softly and employed a stick. Biden blusters but the Russians doubt his willingness to use a stick.
And well they might. According to this report, Biden is withholding military aid from Ukraine that has already been approved by Congress, even in the face of Russian military maneuvers at Ukraine’s borders. Reportedly, Biden will provide only $125 million to Ukraine this year, although Congress has already approved a $275 million package. (Trump sent Ukraine $415 million worth of aid in 2019, including lethal weapons, according to the same report.)
White House officials say the rest of the aid appropriated by Congress but withheld by Biden — $150 million worth — won’t be sent until Ukraine enacts reforms that Biden desires. Biden is fiddling with Ukraine’s domestic policies while Russia threatens to burn down Ukraine’s house.
No wonder Russia wants to test Biden. For all of his experience, he comes across as unserious — a babe in the woods.