The Real Winner of the Biden-Putin Cage Match Over Ukraine

Heritage Explains

The Real Winner of the Biden-Putin Cage Match Over Ukraine

This crisis is happening because of President Biden’s weakness on the world stage.

As we watch in real time the crisis between Ukraine and Russia play out, the media and people following the situation continue to ask if Putin's Russia will invade Ukraine. But regardless of an invasion, we need to realize that this crisis is happening because of President Biden’s weakness on the world stage. This episode talks about the delicate situation, the state of play, and how U.S. foreign policy should be driven by one priority above all others—the safety, security, and well-being of Americans and our interests.

Tim DoescherFrom The Heritage Foundation, I'm Tim Dorchester and this is Heritage Explains. We all remember seeing trains rolling through Russia with tanks, armored vehicles, and weapons loaded on them. And then seeing some 100,000 Russian troops being stationed right at the Eastern Ukrainian border. It was like a scene from a movie.

Doescher: Since then, the tanks and armored vehicles have been unloaded from the trains, and the Russian soldiers are using the weapons for military drills and exercises.

Doescher: A lot's happened. And the narrative is still the same—will Russia invade Ukraine?

Clip: A military standoff, and a diplomatic deadlock. Almost two months since Russia began mustering troops on the Ukrainian border, the situation remains as tense as ever. With negotiations stalling between Russia and the west, the Pentagon has placed 8,500 troops on high alert in case NATO decides to deploy. These troops are ready to support NATO states surrounding Ukraine.

Doescher: But is asking the question of whether or not Russia invades Ukraine, really the question to ask? Perhaps we should instead be looking at the Biden administration and their weak posture on the world stage and how Putin is taking advantage of it. To demonstrate, here's an awkward exchange between Savannah Guthrie and vice president Kamala Harris on the Today Show.

Kamala Harris: On the subject of Ukraine, I will tell you, that the President has been very clear and we as the United States are very clear. If Putin takes aggressive action, we are prepared to levy serious and severe costs. Period.

Savannah Guthrie: It's less than clear because 30 minutes after the news conference, the White House Press Secretary had to actually clarify the President's remarks.

Harris: Savannah, I'm being clear with you right now.

Guthrie: Yes. Okay.

Harris: And so, if you're interested, I'll continue to be clear. We are clear, and have been clear, for quite some time, that our first approach and priority and preference is that the issues could be resolved diplomatically. We also been clear, and continue to be clear, that if Russia takes aggressive action, it will be met with severe costs.

Doescher: Yeah. Clarity is not the word I'd use to describe this.

Doescher: Well ready or not, this is all happening. So what do we do? On this episode, we talk with frequent Explains' guest, Dr. Jim Carafano. He's the Vice President of the Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy here at The Heritage Foundation. Dr. Carafano is going to break down Biden's crisis in Ukraine and how Putin fits in. He's also going to discuss what U.S. involvement should look like and how we can help protect our national security and economic interests without engaging in active combat situations. Strap in folks, because we're going full speed—right after this.

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Doescher: Dr. Carafano, now it's important to point out here with this Russia Ukraine thing going on. One, I wanted to establish that we're not saying, "Oh, is Russia going to invade Ukraine?" Because they already have invaded Ukraine in 2014, correct?

Jim Carafano: Yep.

Doescher: Okay. And then, so we'll talk about the past a little bit, but all the questions right now are saying, "Is Russia going to invade?" And then we're seeing Putin is making demands and saying, "We're not going to invade, but you have to meet these demands." Then we're hearing that Biden is kicking around potentially sending 5,000 troops into Eastern Europe. And is that a signal? You got to just make some sense of this because we've been hearing stuff left and right, back and forth all whatever. So please just shine a little light as to where we are.

Carafano: The one thing is, I think we passed the point of, well, will there be a small incursion or would he try to take over the country? Because the reality is if the Russians step across the border, the Ukrainians are going to treat it like an invasion. So there's no way this doesn't, wouldn't wind up being a big war. There are 44 million Ukrainians. They would fight hard to protect their country. If the Russians go in and they don't want to lose, they would have to throw a lot into the fight, which means they would kill a lot of people. And there would be millions of refugees. And then there's no question whether it would end there. If Ukraine wouldn't become another Afghanistan and there would be an insurgency. So we are way past the option of, "Do the Russians do something smaller?" If there's a war, it's a big war. And the only person who could decide whether that's going to happen or not is Putin. So that's where we are right now.

Doescher: Okay. And in your recent piece, which of course we're going to link to and we're going to get into it in depth here, but you say, "Unsure policy steps from the U.S. in response of what's been happening so far." I hate the term "unpack it," but please, unpack that a little bit.

Carafano: Well the fundamental problem with the U.S. policy from the beginning of this crisis has been...the Biden team went in with the mindset of how do we deescalate the situation, right? So, they led with a diplomatic solution and therefore, because they wanted to be diplomatic, they were framed from doing anything else.

Doescher: What does diplomatic solution look like?

Carafano: Talking, negotiating, what do you need? What do you want, what do you need? What's going on here? But the problem with that is, it was stupid because Putin created the crisis.

Doescher: Right.

Carafano: I mean, he escalated.

Doescher: Right.

Carafano: So the notion of, de-escalation is something you do when you have two parties and you're trying to separate them. And the Ukrainians weren't picking a fight here. So the premise of the U.S. policy was bad to begin with. And so what they weren't doing, which are any of the things that would actually deter the Russians. And so it's now only as diplomacy failed, which was incredibly predictable, that the U.S. is starting to kind of do to things that might actually deter Russian activity. Like providing supplies to the Ukrainians. Arguably these are the things that we should have done at the front end.

Doescher: Right.

Carafano: The question now is how does Putin respond to the fact that we're actually not going to meet his demands.

Doescher: Right.

Carafano: And we're actually going to support the Ukrainians. So this gets to this issue about U.S. troops.

Doescher: So we will not respond to Putin's demands the way he wants us to?

Carafano: Well I think that's pretty clear.

Doescher: Okay.

Carafano: I mean, at least we assume that right now all the major claims, like we're going to not have NATO enlargement or not have troops in. That the U.S. is not going to accede to any of that.

Doescher: Okay.

Carafano: Who's to say that Biden won't get cold feet or do some kind of secret thing. Or who's to say the Russians don't come out and we do something innocuous and they say, "Oh, well look, the Russians, we got all our demands." So who knows what's going to happen on that front. But I think it's pretty clear at this point that the administration recognizes that the diplomatic angle's a dead end.

Doescher: Yeah.

Carafano: And that they have to start doing serious things to deter the Russians.

Doescher: In your piece—and I thought that was really interesting—you said, "A wobbly response from Washington DC. One of those things was how we rolled out arms and ammunition." So I want to talk about the mechanics of what that should have looked like, how was that wobbly?

Carafano: I can just see it in my brain from how they would do this. It's like, "Oh, we can't arm the Ukrainians because that would be seen as an escalation." Right? And we can't put troops on Eastern Europe because that would be seen—so in other words—the Russians would interpret that as an escalation. Well, it's like, dude, they've already escalated.

Doescher: Yeah.

Carafano: So this is self defeating.

Doescher: Yeah.

Carafano: Kind of nonsense. This is—

Doescher: Yeah.

Carafano: You know, there's a terrific film out now called—it's not historically accurate—it's called Munich the Edge of War—it's based on a novel. So it's not even based on reality, but it's all about the Munich agreement and Chamberlain. But the British were sitting around and saying, "Well, we can't re-arm because if we re-arm Hitler will see that as provocative."

Doescher: Right.

Carafano: Well, what was Hitler doing?

Doescher: Yeah.

Carafano: And then Hitler was like arming to the teeth. And you're saying, well, we can't build, this was the big dispute of why Churchill was marginalized. Because he wanted to rebuild the British Air Force. And they said, "Oh, we can't rebuild the British Air Force, the Germans will see that as a threat."

Doescher: Right.

Carafano: Yeah, so.

Doescher: I think it was also incredible, too. That's a great point by the way, bridging those two things. But you also say that the follow up to that was the hashtag campaign stand with Ukraine. Which of course is going to help a lot of stuff happen, I imagine.

Carafano: Well, no hashtag diplomacy. First of all, it's not a real thing.

Doescher: Right.

Carafano: And to be rolling that out at the height of the crisis just makes you look fact less. I mean, Blinken actually said in interview with Chuck Todd the other day said, when Chuck Todd asked me, he said, "Well, are the Russians really seriously doing diplomacy or are they just playing for time?"

Doescher: Yeah.

Carafano: And Blinken says, "Well, they could be just playing for time." Do you know what you just said? Literally, the entire U.S strategy up until very recently, has been all about diplomacy.

Doescher: Yeah.

Carafano: And you just acknowledged that it was all meaningless.

Doescher: Yeah.

Carafano: Do you not hear what you're just saying?

Doescher: It's incredible.

Carafano: The other day, the President of the United States said, "Well, it depends on what the Ukrainians do, if they invade a little." And then the Blinken immediately came out and it said exactly the opposite. He said, "Look, if one Russian soldier crosses the line. This is a big deal."

Doescher: So devastating.

Carafano: We are at the height of a crisis. Could you imagine the height of the Cuban missile crisis?

Doescher: Yeah.

Carafano: If the Secretary of State, Dean Russ came out and said, "Eh, missiles in Cuba, not a big deal." I mean, come on. This is, I wouldn't say embarrassing, but this is, at a crisis it's never more important than to have consistent messaging.

Doescher: Well, it's funny. You mentioned Putin has the move Putin, Putin's got the next move here. He knows what he's going to do and he's going to do it, because he has a lot of the power. He's flexed his muscles, that's the thing.

Doescher: I read a report, I think it was out of British Intelligence. I can't remember where it was from, but you've probably heard of it, saying that now Russia's going to reinstall a puppet as leader of Ukraine to get Zelensky out of there. Is that correct?

Carafano: So the British report was that there was a kind of a Russian plot to engineer a new government.

Doescher: Yeah.

Carafano: That would be sympathetic and pro Russian. First of all, it's not very realistic. That part, the pro Russian party is like 5%.

Doescher: Yeah.

Carafano: So how they would take over the government, I don't... But on the other hand I don't discount it, because Russians often do stuff like this, even though they know it has no chance of success because they just know it royals things and makes things worse.

Doescher: Yeah.

Carafano: So I don't discount the possibility that it's real, even though it may have been unrealistic, but that the plot was real. I wouldn't discount that. It is typical of the Russians to do a range of things to try to disorganize, they do cyber tax, they do this political fifth column stuff. So yeah, it's all possible.

Doescher: But—oh, go ahead.

Carafano: But it's all about, again, from the Russian's perspective about keeping everybody on edge, guessing what they're going to do.

Doescher: You make the case at the real benefactor of all this is China. You talk about how Germany doesn't want to give up their great trade relationships, sending their vehicles to China.

Carafano: Right.

Doescher: They don't want to compromise that. And of course, in every foreign policy thing that I have people sitting in here, of course behind it, there's always the Chinese element. So please give us a little picture of what that looks like playing on here.

Carafano: Yeah. Some people have said "Well, China's the big enemy, therefore what we need to do is make friends with Russia to deal with China." This is such a nonsense idea. Because China and Russia have the exact same goals in Western Europe. They want Western Europe weak and divided.

Doescher: Yeah.

Carafano: They want the United States out. Russia's not going to help us fight China. This is like, asking for help from Russia is like assisted suicide. People that say that just, it's not, it makes no sense even on its face. Right? But the reason why China benefits from this is, look what the Russians have done. They've divided Europe. They're distracting. And that's advantaged China. So yeah. So in a sense, the Russians are doing the Chinese work for them.

Doescher: Do you see, I'm just curious with the Chinese element, is there—I know that they have been meeting with Russia. And then they've been meeting with Iran.

Carafano: Right.

Doescher: And that's a scary thing when three nations like that get together. How does that play out here?

Carafano: Look, the reality is they really can't do much for each other.

Doescher: Okay.

Carafano: And they really don't trust each other. What they all have in common is they'd all like to see us be diminished.

Doescher: Yeah.

Carafano: So they're happy for the other parties to do things, to diminish us. That's really the foundation of the Alliance. The way to split Russia and China is not to make friends with the Russians. It's actually to weaken the Russians. Because the weaker Russia is, the less valuable it is as a partner for China. And actually, the more susceptible Russia is to Chinese moving into their territory. And the Russians don't want to be a suburb of Beijing. So actually the weaker they are, the more they'd have to focus on the China threat than they would on Europe. So, ironically is if you want to split up Russia and China, be tough on Russia,

Doescher: Dr. Carafano, speak directly to the Oval Office right now. What is the best next step in dealing with this. Given everything that's happened now, we know it's been a debacle, but where do we go from here?

Carafano: I mean they rapidly have to do the kind of things that would actually deter Russian aggression. So, that means you have to maximize your efforts to supply and contribute to Ukraine self defense. You have to protect the U.S. supply lines across Eastern Europe and demonstrate your willingness to protect. And you have to not concede anything to the Russians on anything.

Carafano: You know, one of the, among the many failings of this administration, was at the same time they were dealing with the Ukraine crisis, they were actually asking the Russians to help out on the Iran deal. And so, in a sense, they were self-constraining pushing on the Russians because, oh, well, the Russians are going to help us with the Iranians. The Russians are helping the Russians with the Iranians, the Russians are helping the Iranians. So the problem is this impulse for diplomacy first.

Carafano: I'm not bad mouthing diplomacy. Diplomacy's an excellent thing. If it's done in the right way, in the right combination with the other elements of natural power. Anyway, I just go back to start where I said, this is all Joe Biden's fault, which is true. Abysmal leadership, even at the height of the crisis, he's taking weekends in Delaware and calling lids at two o'clock. And how do you think the Russians interpret that? Could you imagine the height of the Cuban missile crisis? If Kennedy said he was going to go boating in New Hampshire? It's so laughable, their policies have been so horrible. And so predictably horrible, because they were so horrible under Obama. And so predictably horrible. It's like, this is a guy that ran for president from the basement and never talked about the hard, tough issues and how he is going to protect Americans.

Carafano: Why are people surprised that we get exactly the same kind of disastrous foreign policy that we had in Obama? And I think the big lesson learned from all this is we have to stop treating our governance, like it's up buffet table. I would go to people and they'd say, "Well, I'm not voting, I'm voting because I don't like the tweets or the orange hair or I'm voting on healthcare, whatever." It's dude, you're voting on the Commander in Chief.

Doescher: Oh.

Carafano: You don't get a choice.

Doescher: Yeah.

Carafano: Right? It's all part of the whole package.

Doescher: Yeah.

Carafano: And these things all affect us. Inflation, border, all these things, farm pot, they're all integrated. So if we care about our country, and living in a world where America's free, safe, and prosperous, we have to take ownership.

Doescher: Dr. Carafano, I love following you on Twitter. I love following you on Heritage.org. You're constantly posting stuff. And I will post your piece on Fox News about all this stuff with Ukraine, how China's playing into it, and how it's going to affect our security and our relationships abroad. So I just wanted to thank you so much for taking care of this issue and covering it with us and coming in today.

Carafano: Thanks for having me.

Doescher: Man, I just love chatting with Dr. Carafano. He always brings it. And if you want more, head over to the show notes, to see the resources that we link to that help build this episode.

Doescher: Are you doing well? How's life out there in the real world? Let us know by sending an email to managingeditor@heritage.org, that's managingeditor@heritage.org. You can also leave us a comment wherever you listen. Also, we love it when your rate us five stars. So if you want to, please do that wherever you listen.

Doescher: Until next time, my friends. Bye. Bye.

Heritage Explains is brought to you by more than half a million members of The Heritage Foundation. It is produced by Michelle Cordero and Tim Doescher, with editing by John Popp.