Why is that? Because Putin trusts the stuff that comes up from the ground more than the stuff that might come out of his people’s heads. So, he has built a petro-autocracy that is fueled by natural resources, not human resources. He then uses the cash to lubricate an engine of corruption that keeps him and his cronies in power, while denying his youth the tools and freedoms to truly realize their full potential.
So, Vlad, you hacked our companies. Tell me, to what end? You’re not going to invade us. Your system of government — kleptocracy — is obnoxious to your own people, let alone foreigners. We certainly have no interest in invading you. And what are you going to do with all those stolen credit card numbers? A massive Amazon buy? (“I’ll take eight million diapers, 30 million rolls of toilet paper, and throw in four million pairs of men’s underwear.”)
The truth is, everything worth stealing in America is in plain sight. It’s our Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, free and fair elections, independent judiciary that upholds elections — even if the incumbent loses — and our independent F.B.I. But Putin wants none of those. (Which is probably good, since we’ve had trouble holding onto them ourselves — but that’s for another column.)
So how best for Biden to deal with this geopolitical stalker? Answer: low-cost military deterrence and high-volume diplomacy that puts us solidly behind Navalny’s anti-corruption movement. Message to Putin: “Our last president was with you. We’re instead with your people. Have a nice day.”
In terms of deterrence, Russia expert Leon Aron, author of “Boris Yeltsin: A Revolutionary Life,” told me that since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Putin has resorted to “militarized patriotism, anti-Americanism and the recovery of the lost glory of the Soviet superpowership” to restore loyalty and popularity at home.
Aron argued that we should prepare now for a possible Crimea-type attempt to “seize and annex areas just across Russia’s border with significant ethnic Russian populations, most likely in Estonia or Latvia, to reignite Russian patriotic fervor and expose NATO as a paper tiger.”
In other words, he added, it might be a good time for Biden to rescind Trump’s order to withdraw about one-third of the U.S. troops in Germany and also to reinforce the Baltic NATO members Estonia and Latvia.