When then-Vice President Joe Biden met with Russian President Putin at the Kremlin in March 2011, he recounted, “I looked into his eyes and I said, ‘I don’t think you have a soul.'”
To which Putin responded, “We understand each other.”
When ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos asked President Biden years later, “You think he’s a killer?” Biden responded, “Mm-hmm. I do.”
Here at the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Putin has been exposed as a lying killer, commanding a rattle-tin army eroded by decades of chronic corruption and incompetence. Both sides have taken more than 100,000 military casualties, or more than 200,000 total, said Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark A. Milley. According to the United Nations refugee agency, there have been 8,006 civilian deaths, including 456 children.
There have been hundreds of reported atrocities by Russian forces and Wagner mercenaries. Russian artillery has targeted apartment buildings, utilities, schools, nuclear power plants and hospitals.
This war has created more than 8 million refugees, including 1.6 million who are now living in Poland. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, citing the UN, more than 13 million people, or nearly a third of Ukraine’s prewar population, have been displaced. US officials say Russian forces had forcibly transferred up to 1.6 million Ukrainian refugees to Russian territory as of September 2022.
Last weekend, President Biden took a secret trip to Ukraine as this war reaches a pivotal state. Stepping out into the streets of the capital city as air-raid sirens blared with Ukraine President Zelensky at his side, a defiant Biden said, “One year later, Kyiv stands. And Ukraine stands. Democracy stands.”
This was the 21st Century version of Presidents Kennedy and Reagan appearing before the Berlin Wall, with the latter saying, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Or the trans-Atlantic alliance between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill during World War II.
According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, the Biden administration and the US Congress have directed more than $75 billion in assistance to Ukraine, which includes humanitarian, financial, and military support ($46.6 billion, or 61%).
What the tyrant Putin is discovering is that Biden is a very different adversary than he found in President George W. Bush when he invaded the neighboring country of Georgia in 2008. Or President Barack Obama when Putin sent an army of “little green men” into Crimea while launching a takeover of the Donbas region in 2014. Neither Bush nor Obama confronted Putin beyond rhetoric and sanctions. Obama handed the Kremlin portfolio to Vice President Biden, who, like Putin, grew up and came of age during the Cold War.
Biden has long viewed Putin as a thug. He was offended when Putin interfered in the 2016 US presidential election. In the PBS edition of Frontline (“Putin and the Presidents”) there is a direct correlation between the Jan. 6 US Capitol insurrection that had been plotted to, as Steve Bannon said, “Kill the Biden presidency in the crib” and Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine the following year. America is divided, Putin believed. The US Capitol is under attack. He had a green light to invade Ukraine.
Former US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch told Frontline that Putin made a “calculation” that President Biden would not hold the western alliance together, as well as Congress. Instead, NATO has expanded and the European Union is weaning itself off of Russian energy.
“This was a miscalculation of Napoleonic magnitude,” Kori Schake, director of the American Enterprise Institute, told Frontline.
Through the lens of former Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff to the late US Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana in a Roll Call op-ed in October 2020, there wasn’t much doubt about the Biden resolve we’ve seen three years ago. From 2003 to 2006, Lugar chaired the committee, while Biden was the ranking member. They flipped roles in 2007 when Democrats won control of the Senate.
“Despite major policy differences between Lugar and Biden and the typical rivalry between their staffs, there never was a moment when we doubted that Biden’s main objective as an elected official was the well-being of the United States,” Republican staffers Dan Diller, Shellie Bressler, Mary Locke and Carl Meacham wrote.
“Lugar and Biden also had different priorities,” these staffers continued. “Biden was usually more interested in regional geopolitics, diplomatic negotiations and conflict resolution than Lugar was. Lugar was more focused on the building blocks of American economic and political power — alliances, trade agreements, arms treaties and diplomatic capacity.
“The partnership flourished because Biden and Lugar had a common vision of how the two parties should overcome their differences. Lugar and Biden believed that fights over policy in committee should not translate into division in front of foreign leaders. Their standing order was to present the the most united front possible.”
Because of this resolution, Ukraine still stands. It faces a brutal year ahead in 2023, if not for years longer.
“When Putin launched his invasion nearly one year ago, he thought Ukraine was weak and the West was divided. He thought he could outlast us,” Biden said in a statement issued by the White House. “But he was dead wrong.”
The columnist is managing editor of Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs at StateAffairs.com/pro/Indiana. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.
This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: Howey: How the defiance of President Biden has helped save Ukraine