The scenes of war are hard to digest: backyard iPhone video clips showing cruise missiles flying over the heartland of Ukraine to unknown points; convoys of tanks and missile launchers crossing the border unimpeded, carrying their deadly cargo; families with young children and pets huddle in underground metro stations in Ukrainian cities.
It’s a grim and gruesome picture painted on social media and 24-hour news stations. If Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goal was to terrorize Ukraine and its allies, he succeeded.
Putin is clearly unbalanced. Invading Ukraine will cost him and his country dearly, as well as the Ukrainian people.
Unfortunately, the invasion is likely to bring down the rest of the world as well.
In the United States, for example, gasoline and heating oil prices are already high, and they will only increase. Natural gas prices are high and will likely go even higher. Inflation is at its highest level in 40 years and is expected to rise further. The freefall in the stock market – down more than 400 points as of midday Thursday – is likely to continue, at least until things in Eastern Europe have stabilized.
All of this will happen regardless of Putin’s next steps – whether he stops in Ukraine or continues his invasion into other former Soviet states such as Poland and Romania.
Sanctions against Russia are needed, but many experts believe they could spill over into the global economy, further raising inflation here and elsewhere.
In short, Americans are being asked to sacrifice themselves for the recklessness of the Russian leader. Many in this country do not think the United States should get involved. Many think that what is happening in Ukraine is none of our business. The former president says Putin is a “genius” and none of this would have happened under his leadership. Fox News broadcasters say the whole mess is Biden’s fault.
Many others see it differently. They say Trump set the stage for Putin’s invasion, doting on him while turning a blind eye to his true intentions. Clearly, the country remains divided on the pattern of the last elections.
This kind of political calculation by President Biden was clear in his remarks Thursday, when he said he would do anything he could to bring down gas prices. He mentioned tapping into the country’s oil reserves to boost fuel supplies and likely lower the price of gas at the pump. He also warned oil producers not to take advantage of the situation by raising prices even further than they already are – around $3.50 a gallon. (Filling a 15-gallon tank of gas now costs around $50 — a significant chunk of most families’ weekly budget.)
Biden is well aware that he needs all Americans to support his efforts to punish and contain Putin’s expansionist ways. If he manages to control inflation and gas prices while paralyzing Putin and his cronies, he will have succeeded. If he succeeds in one but not the other, there will be hell to pay for Democrats in the voting booth in November and 2024.
While such political calculations may seem cynical and heartless when Ukrainian civilians and soldiers are killed or injured by the actions of a madman, they are also necessary.
Biden is fighting a war on many fronts. He’s waging a political war at home against Trumpist conservatives, he’s waging an economic war against inflation, and he’s taking on Putin in Ukraine. He is also battling with his own allies, some of whom are pushing back against the toughest sanctions available, which would be to use SWIFT, or the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, to further block Russian involvement in the global market.
Additionally, as noted at the end of his remarks, Biden did not get full buy-in from India, one of the world’s largest economies. He said he was “working” to get India on board with sanctions against Russia. Not a good sign. He wouldn’t even comment when asked about China, which recently emerged as one of Russia’s allies.
If these two countries alone continue to trade with Russia, sanctions from the West and other democracies around the world may not be enough to curb Putin’s ambitions. And that would be bad for everyone.
Biden must hope the sanctions bring Putin to his knees. Otherwise, the president and his allies better have something else up their sleeves.