Behind Ukrainian Lines

February 22, 2022

"The adults are back in charge." That's what Joe Biden wanted the world to believe after his sit-down with Russian President Vladimir Putin last June. "We'll find out with the next six months to a year whether or not we actually have a strategic dialogue that matters," he said. Well, less than a year later -- as Russian tanks roll through the separatist regions of Ukraine, beating the drums of war -- we have our answer.

The White House, who never managed to mop up Biden's acceptance of a "minor incursion" in Ukraine, was forced to admit Tuesday morning that an "invasion is an invasion, and that is what's underway." While the West went to bed, Putin's idea of "peacekeeping" troops finally set foot on Ukrainian soil -- triggering furious international reaction and bringing civilians closer to a conflict they prayed wouldn't come.

In Donbas, where the fighting has volleyed on and off since 2014, locals raced to evacuate women and children. Inside the villages, where separatists celebrated Putin's decision to formally recognize the "breakaway" regions of Ukraine, the news confirmed everyone's worst fears: war is no longer a hypothetical.

A calm but determined Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, insisted his country was "not afraid of anything or anyone." "It is very important to see now who our real friend and partner is, and who will continue to scare the Russian Federation with words only." The U.S., who could very well be the unnamed "who" Zelensky is talking about, condemned Putin's decision, while President Biden rushed to sign an executive order that stops all new investment, trade, and financing by Americans in the breakaway regions. Full-blown sanctions, the White House told reporters, may follow.

But to House Republicans, like Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), the action comes too late. Like most conservatives, she thinks Biden should have used sanctions as a deterrent -- not a punishment. "You don't wait until perhaps tens of thousands of people are killed and missiles have been launched and airplanes attack and drop bombs and ships shoot off missiles and tanks, invade your country -- and then put in sanctions," Hartzler argued.

Combat veteran Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.) agreed. While the U.S. dragged its feet, he pointed out, Russia "prepared their economy." It's interesting, he said on "Washington Watch. Putin has spent the last several weeks safeguarding Russia's reserves while the West bickers about what to do. "They converted their currency. They got rid of all their dollars. They're in a better place. It still will be devastating to their economy," but it won't inflict the kind of pain it would have if Democrats had stopped dithering and cut Russia's trade lines sooner. At this point, NRO's Jim Geraghty grumbled, the Biden administration is bringing "economic sanctions to a gunfight."

NATO, meanwhile, warned Tuesday that Russia is still planning a "full-scale" attack. "They are out of their camps, in the field and ready to strike," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg declared. The whole world, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) responded, "is watching." He called on Biden to bring down a heavier hammer, forcing Putin to "pay a price."

At the end of the day, Hartzler shakes her head, this whole situation is "very serious" and "very heartbreaking." "This is a free and independent people -- a democracy. Many of [the Ukrainians] are Christians, and the thought that you have a thug like Vladimir Putin who just wants to take a country through raw power is just absolutely [tragic]. And the weakness of our own president has, sadly, only enabled this to take place. After what President Biden did with the debacle of leaving Afghanistan, it just showed how weak we are. And this president has not negotiated in good faith with Putin from the beginning. He's acquiesced, and now we're at a doorstep of losing this nation and their freedom being squashed. It's truly a dark day."