Steven V. Roberts: Putin crosses a line

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 22, 2022

Where can the United States and its allies fight Putin’s murderous rampage in Ukraine? The answer is everywhere, with every weapon available.

This war is being fought on many fronts at once: military, economic, legal, media, moral. The focus now is on the Russian assault in eastern Ukraine. But battles are also blazing in boardrooms, courtrooms and chat rooms. The troops are internet influencers and war crimes investigators, financial managers and factory managers, preachers and politicians.

Putin’s foes should not cross a “red line” that expands the fighting to neighboring countries. But they have to push right up to that line. As Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, puts it, “Putin will only stop when we stop him.”

There was hope at the outset of this war that Czar Vlad The Violator would negotiate a fair end to the conflict — that he would accept a neutral Ukraine with its prewar boundaries secured by international guarantors. But that hope was seriously misguided. Putin has reacted to his humiliating defeats by escalating his military mission, not reducing it. The West has to respond by increasing its own commitment to the battle — that is, the many battles. Now.

That commitment starts with a simple question: Should President Biden go to Ukraine and meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy? Asked by CNN if Biden would come, Zelenskyy said, “I think he will.”

That would be an important gesture, assuming the security situation can be stabilized. But even if Biden doesn’t travel, he can be a vital voice of moral clarity. But moral markers are not enough. Biden has to get over some of his earlier squeamishness about supplying Kyiv with the heavy weapons it needs to hold off Russian advances. He made a good start with an $800 million package that, according to CNN, “included 11 Mi-17 helicopters that had initially been earmarked for Afghanistan, 18 155 mm howitzer cannons and 300 more Switchblade drones, in addition to radar systems capable of tracking incoming fire and pinpointing its origin.”

Biden also has to pressure U.S. arms makers to step up production of critical weapons like Javelin anti-tank missiles and shoulder-fired Stingers that can shoot down aircraft. Some of those munitions would go directly to Kyiv; others could restock the arsenals of NATO allies that have already been aiding Ukraine.

Speaking of NATO, Biden should openly support the growing ambitions of Finland and Sweden to join the alliance. Show Putin how badly he miscalculated. He invaded Ukraine in part to roll back NATO’s possible expansion toward the Russian border, and he’s created exactly the opposite effect. If Finland does join, that would add 830 miles to the border between the alliance and Russia — more than double the current line of confrontation.

On the economic front, Washington, D.C. has to declare war on the ruble, driving down its value and forcing Moscow into defaulting on its international obligations. Close all the banking loopholes, hunt down the oligarchs and above all, do everything possible to shut off Russia’s income from the export of oil and gas.

Biden has already agreed to auction off drilling leases on 145,000 acres of public lands, and while the environmental lobby is screaming in protest, governing is about making choices, and protecting the national security by enhancing energy independence has to be the administration’s top priority.

The U.S. is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court, but it can aid war crimes investigations in many ways. “The United States has demonstrated before and during this conflict that it has unparalleled intelligence regarding Russian military plans and activities,” Yale Law professor Oona Hathaway writes in the Washington Post. “Sharing information with the ICC prosecutor as he investigates possible crimes in Ukraine could be an important step toward ensuring accountability.”

In the media war, the White House should be bolstering resources for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which beams Russian-language broadcasts into a country where few dissident voices have survived. And it should be utilizing Telegram and other online platforms that can still evade the Kremlin’s censorship.

Putin has crossed a “red line” — of decency, of humanity, of respect for international norms of civilized behavior. He must be made to pay. On every front. In every way.


Steven Roberts teaches at George Washington University. Email him at