Remember way back last fall when the Democrats and media continued to claim that President Trump was a Putin stooge and that Putin must have something on him to justify the supposedly favorable policies pursued by the Trump Administration in return for the assistance given by the Russians to Trump beating Hillary Clinton back in 2016?
For four years we have been treated to headlines in the media giving voice to Democrat claims
Brookings: “Does Trump Owe Russia? The Supreme Court’s Ruling on the President’s Taxes May Eventually Give Us Answers.”
Washington Post: “More Evidence of Trump’s Subservience to Putin — And We Still Don’t Know Why.”
CNN: “The Riddle of Trump’s Relationship With Russia.”
New York Magazine: “Trump Won’t Denounce Hack Russia’s Hack Because He’s Still Subservient To Putin.”
Forbes: “Mueller Exposes Putin’s Hold Over Trump.”
NYT: “Trump Still Defers to Putin, Even as He Dismisses U.S. Intelliegence and Allies”
It really is stunning the degree to which this baseless supposition took on the gloss of factual accuracy simply by virtue of the media and Democrats repeating it non-stop over the course of four years.
The reality is that the Trump administration imposed harsher sanctions on Russia than anything ever done by the Obama Administration. President Trump actually took steps against Russian interests that Obama refused to take like providing tank-killing Javelin missiles to Ukrainian armed forces as a means to deter Russian cross-border incursions with Russian armored forces that the Ukrainians were otherwise powerless to stop.
The Trump Administration has also opposed the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Western Europe. This is a natural gas pipeline with a route to Western Europe that bypasses traditional transit countries in Eastern Europe that were formerly part of the Soviet Bloc. Critics of Nord Stream 2 argue that the purpose of the second pipeline is to allow Russia to continue supplying gas to Western Europe while having the ability to threaten gas supplies to countries formerly part of its sphere of influence in order to bring them back into political alignment with Russian interests. Countries like Ukraine, Poland, Belarus, and the Czech Republic would be vulnerable to supply interruptions by the Russians without the risk that countries in Western Europe would be hurt as well, and maybe retaliate.
But now we have a new Administration. I’m confident we’ll never see headlines like the six listed above which replace “Trump” with “Biden”.
So how to explain the fact that in his testimony before the Senate, incoming Secretary of State Tony Blinken testified that the Biden Administration will continue the policies of the Trump administration when it comes to Russia?
The Biden Administration is going to continue the policy of training and sending lethal weapons to Ukraine. The Obama administration refused to do so on the basis that they feared it would widen the armed conflict — they preferred a narrower conflict with the Ukrainians getting the crap kicked out of them I guess.
They are also going to continue the policy of opposing Nord Stream 2 even though some Western European allies support the project because it means cheaper and more natural gas supplies for them without the potential for having to choose sides in a dispute between Russian and Eastern European countries that will be made more vulnerable to Russian coercion.
Finally, there is one subject where the Biden Administration is showing itself more willing than the Trump Administration to reach an agreement with Russia — the proposed five-year extension on the START nuclear arms deal.
“The United States intends to seek a five-year extension of New START as the treaty permits. The president has long been clear that the New START Treaty is in the national security interests of the United States.”
President Trump had resisted Russian efforts to extend the existing treaty in order to negotiate a new treaty agreement that would take into consideration some weapons issues not covered by the existing treaty, such as tactical nuclear weapons.
Russia first offered to extend the treaty without preconditions in early 2020, but the Trump administration was continuing to apply economic sanctions as a multi-pronged strategy to get the Russians to expand the Treaty’s coverage. Biden will now surrender that position of advantage by giving Putin what Trump had been unwilling to give him.
When you get past the typical interest groups who reflexively opposed almost all Trump’s foreign policy initiatives towards Russia, you find some interesting supporters of Trump’s approach as compared to what Biden has just committed himself to do. From Politico:
Even some Biden advisers were calling for a one-year extension in order to pressure the Russians to begin negotiations on a follow-on treaty. For example, Victoria Nuland, who has been nominated to be undersecretary of State, recently called for a one-year extension of the treaty.
“I didn’t know which way they would go,” said Tim Morrison, who oversaw the arms control portfolio on the National Security Council in the Trump administration. “It strikes me as an indication that Biden just thinks he has too many other things going on to undertake an actual arms control negotiation of his own. He is sort of taking a gamble that he won’t get a chance to make a treaty.”
Morrison, who is now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, believes the Russians “are not going to be interested in a follow-on discussion. At least not one Biden can sell.” For Moscow, he added, “any follow-on discussion probably needs to include space limitations and missile defense limitations and things that are just dead on arrival in the U.S.”
“The Russians are going to take a five-year extension, they are going to pocket it, and then they’ll say, ‘see you in 2026, Americans,'” he said.
Bradley Bowman, senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, also expressed concern that a full extension could be short-sighted.
“A copy and paste maneuver by the Biden administration that extends the treaty for five years risks undercutting America’s leverage with both Moscow and Beijing. Such a move would also make Americans less safe,” he said in a statement. “The treaty’s current formulation gives Putin a dangerous free pass to continue to develop and field a Strangelovian array of nuclear weapons not covered by the treaty.“
All of this leads me to wonder, “What does Putin have on Biden that makes Biden so willing to give Putin what he wants?”