Vladimir Putin badly miscalculated, Russia will get weaker: Joe Biden

Updated on Mar 02, 2022 11:11 AM IST

The US President said that history has shown when “dictators” do not pay a “price for their aggression”, they cause “more chaos”.

US President Joe Biden delivering the State of the Union address at the Capitol in Washington today. (Bloomberg Photo)
US President Joe Biden delivering the State of the Union address at the Capitol in Washington today. (Bloomberg Photo)

WASHINGTON: In his first State of the Union address, United States (US) president Joe Biden said that Russian president Vladimir Putin “badly miscalculated” with his invasion of Ukraine, he was more isolated from the world than ever, and when the history of this era was written, the invasion will leave Russia weaker and the rest of the world stronger.

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Declaring that freedom would triumph over tyranny, and framing Russia’s action as a battle between democracy and autocracy, where democracies were rising at the moment, Biden said, “Six days ago, Russia’s Vladimir Putin sought to shake the foundations of the free world thinking he could make it bend to his menacing ways. But he badly miscalculated. He thought he could roll into Ukraine and the world would roll over. Instead, he met a wall of strength he never imagined. He met the Ukrainian people.” The US president also said Putin had thought the West and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) wouldn’t respond, and that he could “divide us at home”. “Putin was wrong. We were ready.”

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine constituting the backdrop of his speech, Biden outlined measures that would inflict a high cost on Putin, the Russian economy and Russian oligarchs, announced a ban of Russian flights into US airspace, acknowledged that sanctions would have an impact at home, and expressed strong support to Ukraine. With Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States sitting in the audience, right next to First Lady Jill Biden, the President’s remarks on Ukraine drew repeated standing ovations from across the aisle, indicating strong bipartisan hostility to Moscow’s aggression.

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In his speech, the US president also spoke about the economy, Covid-19, voting rights, criminal justice systems and gun violence, innovation, and proposed a four-point bipartisan agenda revolving around battling opioid epidemic, supporting mental health initiatives, supporting veterans and ending cancer.

Biden began by acknowledging the strength of Ukraine’s resistance. “From President (Volodymyr) Zelensky to every Ukrainian, their fearlessness, their courage, their determination inspires the world… Let each of us here tonight in this chamber send an unmistakable signal to Ukraine and to the world…we, the United States of America, stand with the Ukrainian people.”

In what appeared to be a bid to explain to the American people why this moment was important, Biden said that history has shown when “dictators” do not pay a “price for their aggression”, they cause “more chaos”, they keep moving, and the costs and threats to America and the world keep rising. This is why, he said, NATO was created in Europe after the second World War, the US was a member of the alliance, and it mattered. “American diplomacy matters. American resolve matters.”

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Blaming Putin for repeatedly rejecting diplomatic efforts, Biden said the US had “prepared extensively and carefully”, spent months building a “coalition of other freedom-loving nations” across continents to confront Putin, shared with the world what the US knew Putin was planning, and countered Russia’s “lies with truth”. “And now that he has acted, the free world is holding him accountable. We are inflicting pain on Russia and supporting the people of Ukraine. Putin is now isolated from the world more than ever.”

Biden said that the US and its allies and partners had enforced economic sanctions, cut off Russia’s largest banks from the international financial system, prevented Russia’s central bank from defending the Russian ruble “making Putin’s $630 billion ‘war fund’ worthless”, and were choking off Russia’s access to technology that would “sap its economic strength and weaken its military for years to come”.

Announcing that the Department of Justice was assembling a dedicated task force to go after the “crimes of Russian oligarchs”, Biden said, “We are joining with our European allies to find and seize your yachts, your luxury apartments, your private jets. We are coming for your ill-begotten gains.”

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Biden also announced the closure of American air space to all Russian flights. All of this, the US president said, was already having an impact with Russian ruble down 30%, the Russian stock market down 40%, and the economy reeling. “And Putin alone is to blame.”

The US president then turned his focus on the support being provided to Ukraine – in the form of military, economic and humanitarian assistance. “We are giving more than $1 billion in direct assistance to Ukraine. We will continue to aid the Ukrainian people as they defend their country and to help ease their suffering.” Biden said that while Ukrainians was fighting back with “pure courage”, the next few days, weeks, months would be hard on them. “Putin has unleashed violence and chaos. But while he may make gains on the battlefield, he will pay a continuing high price over the long run.”

Biden reiterated that the US would not send troops to Ukraine to fight Russia, and that US forces were going to Europe to defend NATO allies “in the event that Putin decides to keep moving west”. “For that purpose, we have mobilised American ground forces, air squadrons, ship deployments to protect NATO countries, including Poland, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.” The US, he said, would “defend every inch” of NATO territory with the “full force” of its collective power.

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It was then that Biden acknowledged that this would have an impact at home. “A Russian dictator, invading a foreign country, has costs around the world.” The US president said that he was “taking robust action” to ensure that sanctions remained targeted at the Russian economy, and American businesses and consumers were protected. At a time when high energy prices have emerged as a key concern, Biden announced that the US, along with 30 other countries, was releasing 60 million barrels of oil from reserves around the world.

The US president also pointed to what has been acknowledged by analysts as a significant outcome of the Russian invasion – a more unified Europe, a more unified West. “In the battle between democracy and autocracy, democracies are rising to the moment…Putin will never weaken the resolve of the free world.”

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    Prashant Jha is the Washington DC-based US correspondent of Hindustan Times. He is also the editor of HT Premium. Jha has earlier served as editor-views and national political editor/bureau chief of the paper. He is the author of How the BJP Wins: Inside India's Greatest Election Machine and Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal.

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