May 31, 2021
Given Russia’s cyberattack on the US and others this week to access foreign policy positions just before the vital NATO Summit, G7, and the first bilateral talks between the US and Russia’s presidents, it’s time for a serious Russia reckoning. There has been little to indicate that this will be the case. Unless President Joseph Biden has something up his sleeve he should use the Nobelium cyberattacks to withdraw from the June 16 meeting in Geneva.
Although America initiated the meeting, more than likely President Vladimir Putin initiated the cyberattack to obtain intelligence on and to set the tone of the meeting.
The cyber hack—Russia’s denials notwithstanding– clearly shows that the presidents are not on the same page. Putin does not want “stability and predictability” like his US counterpart. He thrives on chaos and unpredictability. He wants Russia to be like the old USSR commandeering the Soviet space with absolute power and fear. And he will extend to as much of the globe as he can. He mouths epitaphs like “mutual co-operation and trust” but his deeds speak louder than words.
The Belarus hijacking, the Solar Wind cyber heist shutting America’s gas pumps, the menacing military enlargement on Europe’s border show clearly that Putin is not recalcitrant about his lawlessness. It’s the opposite. Russia is actively taunting the democratic world eager to provoke and exacerbate rather than resolve issues.
He does not need the meeting to discuss climate change nor nuclear proliferation. He doesn’t care about the former and Iran is a client. Nor will he tolerate a listing of Russia’s violations of international laws and diplomatic requests for contrition. His officials have already called for “respect”; an attempt to avert criticism. He will, however, talk about the need for Russia’s accommodation as if dictatorship were on par with democracy. Watch for his da-da harasho– no problem– to climate change and nuclear non-proliferation to placate the West. Subterfuge at its best.
In fact, Putin is mocking the meeting. He allowed Russia’s TV to claim falsely that Biden “pleaded and pleaded for the meeting because America is bowing to Russia.” His lawlessness will have no bounds if he’s not contained.
But he has a fear. Russia’s president is afraid of NATO; especially with Ukraine in it. To him, this arrangement spells disaster at home and abroad. It means that the reconstruction of the former Russia-dominated USSR is lost and he, personally, loses an empire and face. The loss
weakens him in the eyes of his oligarchs’ cabal who accept him as their vozhd, chief, only as long as he protects them from domestic opposition at home, the independence of former Soviet neighbors — above all Ukraine—and brings them limitless, undeserved wealth using mafia rules.
Since 1991 Ukraine has rejected Russia’s model—wrongly supported by some in the West –with its “right to control the near abroad.” This thinking has escalated into a military invasion of Georgia and Ukraine, which it has been withstanding for seven years. Should it now be fortified by NATO much is lost to Putin and company.
A serious setback to the aggressor is what the world needs and the main reason why the alliance needs to get tough with Russia.
At its summit, two days prior to Biden-Putin meeting, NATO needs to hand Russia an ultimatum: withdraws from Ukraine by a specific date — Aug. 24, Ukraine’s Independence Day will do — or Ukraine gets immediate NATO membership.
The other day, Putin threatened to “knock the teeth out —vybyty zuby—of anyone who wants to bite Russia. Without a bold initiative – a knockout from NATO followed by Biden’s leadership at the bilateral meeting, the rogue Russian will have won again.
To re-establish such leadership–not just America’s but that of democracy over Putin’s I-can-do-anything dictatorship -President Biden must show grit guided by the age-old principle that the graver the sins the greater the punishment. He needs to go further than has already been done to contain President Putin’s persistent criminal advances without hesitation.
At the meeting America’s president needs to confront Russia’s president with a clear option: agree to withdraw from Crimea and Donbas by the specified date or immediately:
** Ukraine obtains membership in NATO;
** Russia’s banks start being removed from SWIFT; and
** assets sequestered by sanctioned entities and their families in the West will be frozen.
Putin’s greatest fear is that a punishment for his dangerous disregard for international law will finally match his crimes.
This is Biden’s trump card. If he can’t deliver he should cancel the talks.
Oksana Bashuk Hepburn, a former senior executive with the government of Canada and president of a consulting firm doing business in Ukraine, writes on international issues involving Ukraine.