What It Means to Get Tough with Putin

by Jan Frazier

United Kingdom ,  (Washington Insider Magazine)  –  On Wednesday, it was the first time that Joe Biden had spoken abroad as President of the United States. He received cheers from the audience when he declared that he intended to get tough on Russia’s Vladimir Putin. 

Biden made it clear to the U.S. troops stationed at the British airbase that he would “meet with Mr. Putin, to let him know what I want him to know.” There was ample applause to what the troops hailed as a “tough message.”

However, the message wasn’t all that “tough,” was it? In his speech to the soldiers, Biden “repeated his goal of a more stable and predictable relationship with Russia.” It could be tough, but that depends on three things: “talking tough, toughing it out, and hanging tough.” It is important in any communication between the U.S. and Russia that these three “tough” elements are present.

Looking back at former President Ronald Reagan, he “famously used fighting words against the Soviets, describing his Cold War strategy as ‘we win, they lose’ and even casting the Soviet Union as an ‘evil empire.’”

However, tough talk also means defining the red line, and if the line is crossed, then you must do what you said you would do. Former President Barack Obama “famously declared Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons as a red line in Syria, but when that line was crossed, he backed down from using force.”

In Geneva, Biden not only needed to be explicit about stopping Russian hacking; he also needed to “draw clear lines between competition in cyber space and criminal ransomware attacks.” Biden needed to be clear that we will not tolerate these actions., which he properly did.

Putin needs to understand fully that Biden will act if that red line is crossed.

This tough message is only the beginning. Biden “must be prepared to tough it out, through what will be difficult negotiations in Geneva and perhaps afterwards.” Not only does Biden need to hang tough now but also for the long term. America must enhance its resilience. ”Knowing that some provocative and destabilizing Russian behavior is not going to stop, toughness means becoming less vulnerable to it in the first place.”

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