KOFFLER: Biden Got Bullied At The Putin Summit

(Photo by Denis Balibouse - Pool/Keystone via Getty Images)

Rebekah Koffler Contributor
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It was a bad idea from the start for President Joe Biden to reward Putin for Russia’s hostile behavior towards America with a high-profile diplomatic rendezvous in Geneva.

Biden’s lack of preparedness and minimal understanding of what he was getting himself and the country into were obvious, judging from the amateurish description of his goals: “I will tell Putin what I want him to know.”

Behind closed doors, during the perfunctory tête-à-tête with Moscow’s strongman, Biden rattled off a laundry list of issues that have been “poisoning” (pun intended) the Moscow-Washington relationship. But when it came to sparring with the Russian judo master publicly, Biden foolishly refused to hold a joint press conference with him. Having failed to man up and defend America’s values, Biden let Putin run a massive disinformation campaign and denigrate our country in the process. The leader of the free world was upstaged by Moscow’s Czar with no interference whatsoever. Even Putin didn’t anticipate being granted such a propaganda coup.

Putin didn’t waste the chance offered him by the White House and desperate media to insult America and Americans. He did what a KGB operative is trained to do: deflect, deny, deceive and counter. Putin laughed off the NBC interviewer’s questions about his responsibility for the killings of Russian dissidents and journalists. When confronted about the poisoning of Alexei Navalny with a nerve agent, Putin retorted, “Did you order the assassination of the woman who walked into the Congress and . . . was shot and killed by a policeman?” He was referring to Ashli Babbitt, the Air Force veteran who was fatally shot by Capitol police during the Jan. 6 Capitol riots.

Putin fanned the flames of chaos of an already divided American society at every turn. He criticized the U.S. government’s response to the Capitol riots, pointing out that 450 people who “came there with political demands” got arrested. Fomenting discord and chaos in America has been Russia’s perennial strategy to weaken our country.

Notably, the author of the so-called strategy of “controlled instability,” the chief of Russia’s General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, was in the room as Putin delivered salvo after salvo. The Gerasimov doctrine envisions cyber warfare as a destructive weapon that Russia can use to sow chaos in a victim state. Russia has calibrated this modern warfare tool to wreak havoc on both its opponents’ networks and their populations’ minds. Cyber-enabled disinformation served up by Russia to unsuspecting Americans aims to amplify existing tensions within our society by playing political, religious, ethnic and social groups against one another. The Russians have honed this tradecraft by targeting the three most recent U.S. elections.

Putin skillfully turned the tables on the American media and president, who were inadequate for the task of confronting the Russian authoritarian. Russia’s propagandist-in-chief accused America of countless sins, especially human rights abuses. He invoked the tragic killing of George Floyd, the African American who died at the hands of a white police officer while resisting arrest.

Biden’s agenda for the summit was unachievable from the start. With typical wishful thinking, the White House sought to pursue “strategic stability” and “predictable” relations with the Kremlin. Clearly, the “experts” advising our president have ignored Sun Tzu’s ancient guidance to “know thy adversary and know thyself” in order “not to be in peril.” Russia’s anti-U.S. strategy relies on what we called in the intelligence business “strategic surprise.”

Expecting Putin to be predictable, especially with regard to the United States and NATO, which the Kremlin views as number one threats, is naïve. Russia initiated an offensive against Georgia in 2008 while major heads of state were attending the Olympics in China. Putin took over Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014, masking the invasion as a military exercise. And Putin will not be announcing his next move and satisfying Biden’s wish for predictability. Expecting Moscow, which has been cyber-sabotaging and upending international order for several years now, to become the guardian of the world’s stability is foolish.

Biden ostensibly drew U.S. “red lines” by handing Putin a list of sixteen sectors that Washington considers off-limits for hacking. This took place after Moscow had already crippled U.S. critical infrastructure, including America’s gasoline and food supplies, nuclear plants and power grid. It is akin to giving an IV drip to a patient pronounced dead. The Kremlin has concluded, having ransacked U.S. systems for years now without any consequences, that nothing is “off-limits.”

The president has zero ability to change Russia’s behavior by meaningless rhetoric, sanctions or lists handed to Putin. Moscow has declared cyber as a warfighting domain, akin to air, sea and ground, and has been waging low-intensity cyber warfare against the United States. And America is not fighting back. Sensing Biden’s weak knees, Putin went into the summit to steamroll him. Putin wanted to show Biden what Nikita Khruschev’s great-granddaughter colorfully described in a Russian TASS article as “the mother of the son of a bitch” (kuz’kinu mat’). It is Russia’s less genteel way of saying “show ’em who’s boss.”

Every U.S. president since the end of the Cold War, both Democrat and Republican, has attempted to “reset” our relations with Russia. Every one of them has failed. How many “resets” does it take to prove the age-old axiom that to keep doing the same thing in the hopes of achieving a different result is the definition of insanity?

Having backed himself into a corner vis-à-vis Putin, the only sensible course of action for Biden would have been to play a “Primakov.” In March 1999, Yevgeny Primakov, a former Russian prime minister and senior KGB official, famously abruptly cancelled his trip to Washington to meet with then Vice President Al Gore. Primakov, whom many Russians consider Putin’s godfather, turned his airplane around in midair over the Atlantic. He felt that America was disrespecting Russia as, during the Kosovo War, NATO was about to begin a bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, a Russian ally.

Since Biden did not have the wherewithal to save our country from this humiliating meeting, Putin the “killer” killed it, elevating his and his country’s stature while denigrating ours. He will not stop — until a worthy American opponent comes along.

Rebekah Koffler is a former intelligence officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency and the author of the forthcoming, “Putin’s Playbook: Russia’s Secret Plan to Defeat America.