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"We begin bombing in five minutes". These are probably the most famous recorded words of a US president that ever went viral. They are certainly the most famous words that were meant to stay off-the-record and yet were leaked to the public. It took great diplomatic effort to cool down the commotion that followed. I had to think of this joke that Ronald Reagan made in 1984 during a soundcheck before his weekly radio address (he was running for re-election and was polishing his doctrine labeling the USSR as an "evil empire"), as soon as the last words of Joe Biden's speech in Warsaw rang out, and half the world rushed to express its concern about the "overreaction" of the president "known for his gaffe-prone tendencies".
"For God's sake, this man cannot remain in power" - since Saturday night, the White House staff and the Secretary of State have been trying to walk back Biden’s perfectly serious statement, stressing that the US does not have some kind of regime change strategy in Russia, that whoever governs Russia is entirely up to the Russian people, and that Biden only meant to say that Putin must not feel entitled to wage war against Ukraine or anyone else.
Is that really so? Sure, it is the Russian people who may one day be able to decide who governs them, and yes, Biden addressed them directly (something no US president has ever done before). But the strategy of regime change in Russia already exists and is being pursued since at least the fall, when American intelligence services and the Pentagon already knew that Putin was going to attack Ukraine.
Biden, who first became a senator in 1973, spent many years on Capitol Hill watching the decline of the late Soviet Union, the progressive passing of an economically unsustainable military empire and its ultimate collapse. Today, when I hear him speak about the need to prepare for a long battle against an authoritarian aggressor, I understand it as a clear declaration that business as usual is over. No more mingling with Putin, whom G.W. Bush long ago saw as "trustworthy", and no more tolerance of the dismantling of Western democracies with petro-rubles.
A month of the Ukrainians effectively exposing the actual state of Russia’s military capabilities - made possible by their own heroism, but also in part by American weapons and American sanctions - draws a never-before-seen prospect for the Pentagon: inflicting a fundamental military defeat on the Kremlin without a single American soldier.
For an entire month, the heroic Ukrainians, aided in part by American weapons and American-imposed sanctions, have been effectively exposing the actual state of Russia’s military capabilities, thus providing the Pentagon with an unprecedented opportunity: inflicting a major military defeat on the Kremlin without a single shot fired by an American soldier.
In the past, Kremlinologists had it easier because even in the Stalinist era there existed some institutions, a politburo, a party's central committee, structures that could generate internal opposition to the erring tyrant. Today, however, there are no such institutions in Russia, it is a state governed vertically in a grotesque and exaggerated way.
That is why there is no use in anticipating any change of power in Moscow or thinking about a potential red line that, when crossed, will bring the so-called ordinary Russians out on the streets en masse.
Instead, there is a real and clear strategy to cut off Russia in its present form from the rest of the civilized world and its achievements. There is a real prospect of making Europe independent from Russian energy and raw materials. There is a will to expose and cut off the network of Russian influence in the West. There is a war taking place on the level of soft power, and Russia - a sclerotic, inept regime of clumsy and brutal boomers- is losing it.
All this is happening on the watch of a US president who was supposed to be a "sleepy Joe". He was the one who on Saturday said that autocrats around the world are united by contempt for truth and contempt for the rule of law, but also that this war is already a strategic failure for Putin.
Biden - just like Macron and Scholz, only much more bluntly - on Saturday announced a long and open confrontation with Putin's authoritarian, lying, and criminal regime. Macron criticized this as "verbal escalation", but after all, Biden simply said what everyone else is thinking. Unlike diplomats, the leader of the free world can and should sometimes call things what they actually are. That's why he was voted into office in the first place.
Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about Polish politics and society, keeping a critical eye on the ruling camp’s persistent assault on democratic values and the rule of law; the growing cultural tension between religious fundamentalism and human rights; and the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. Our journalists are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities, reporting from the streets, hospitals, and courtrooms about issues that move public opinion.
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