Do not let Putin get away with invading Ukraine – twin cities

While President Joe Biden has been trying to quell tensions with China, Vladimir Putin has been busy perfecting a new form of warfare against the West.

The White House had hoped to put Russia on its back while focusing on America’s far more dangerous rivalry with Beijing. But Putin, always eager to seize the global spotlight, has amassed 80,000 troops at the Ukrainian border, threatened to restrict gas to Europe and contributed to Belarus’ gross abuse of refugees as a weapon against Poland.

A bite here, a bite there, the use of misinformation, cyberhacking, extortion, human trafficking, proxy wars – all part of Putin’s arsenal to try to destabilize Europe and America while denying any involvement. And the West has not yet figured out how to check on him.

Some call it “hybrid war”, but I think of it as “salami war.” Putin bites off until the sausage is half gone in an attempt to destabilize democracies while forcing America and the EU to accept his dominance over parts of Europe.

“The idea of ​​the White House to make Russia more reliable so that it can work on China is not working so well,” I was told by Alexander Vershbow, who served as US ambassador to Moscow and deputy secretary general of NATO. “We may want to put Russia on the back burner, but Putin has other ideas,” said Alexander Vershbow, who served as US ambassador to Moscow and deputy secretary general of NATO.

Putin is pursuing his salami war in stages, taking several bites when NATO allies are distracted.

He makes no secret of his desire to swallow an independent and democratic Ukraine. Since invading Ukraine in 2014 and annexing Crimea, he has continued to destabilize the country to prevent it from moving closer to the EU.

He sent Russian troops, agents and weapons to occupy the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine in 2014 and paid no political price when those agents shot down a Malaysian civilian passenger plane with Russian missiles.

NATO allies fear that Putin will actually gather these troops for yet another military incursion. “What Putin is really doing is testing how much solidarity there is in the West,” I was told by former Russian Security Council expert Fiona Hill. “The big question: Does he go too far and trigger a massive response?”

In the same way, Putin is testing whether Europe will let him get away with blackmailing the continent over gas – and refugees.

Europe is too dependent on Russian gas at a time when it is struggling with energy shortages. Both the Trump and Biden administrations had warned Germany not to approve another gas pipeline from Russia, known as Nord Stream 2, because it would increase dependence on Moscow. Biden mistakenly dropped his resistance months ago as a service to Germany, but the German government promised to reconsider if Russia tried to “use energy as a weapon.”

Now Putin has baldly warned that he will only increase Russian gas shipments if Germany immediately certifies the North Steam 2 pipeline. Germany’s energy regulator has temporarily stopped approving pipelines, but the German government has not frozen the project.

“How much more explicit can Putin be about blackmail?” asks Hill.

Putin’s latest weapon against Europe is human trafficking. His closest ally, President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus next door, has organized visas for desperate Iraqis and Afghans and had them transported to the Polish border. This would be highly unlikely without a Kremlin green light.

The aim is to pressure Europe to drop sanctions on Belarus for false elections. (Lukashenko also escaped with air piracy, forcing an Irish civilian passenger plane to land so he could kidnap a Belarusian dissident out of it.) Like the man holding Lukashenko in power, Putin cannot differentiate himself from these crimes.

Putin does not care. He has refused to stop the operations of Russian criminal cyber hackers despite visits by US officials with lists of culprits.

So despite efforts by the Biden team to search for areas that are in line with Moscow, following a Putin-Biden meeting in June in Geneva, commitment must not rule out pushback.

“Putin is clearly testing the limits of what he can get away with,” Vershbow said. Europe and cyberspace are the test sites. (The Kremlin is so risk-averse that Moscow has just conducted an anti-satellite missile test that endangered the International Space Station, including Russian crew members.)

“We should do more to push back,” Hill said. One place to start would be a decision by Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to freeze Nord Stream 2 due to Putin’s blackmail. And beyond what the US is secretly doing to push back against cyberhacking, it’s obviously time for something much more serious, backed by the US and Europe in tandem.

In terms of sanctions, they have clearly not changed the behavior of Putin or Lukashenko. More severe sanctions affecting the wealth of Putin and his cronies could change the mindset of the Russian president.

It’s time for the White House – and NATO – to counter the Russian leader’s tactics before he suspects he may invade Ukraine again. “What starts in Ukraine will not stay in Ukraine,” says Vershbow. “You can not just think of deescalation when Putin escalates.”

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