Mon. May 23rd, 2022

ISIS Leader killed in major operation inside Syria. Major collateral damage. No American casualties. 

Timing could be a key win for an unpopular President facing a tense situation in Ukraine with Russia, which has amassed well over 100,000 troops inside the Russian border ever since it annexed Crimea, shortly after closing ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics, and only 800 miles nearby on the coast of the Black Sea. 

The crisis inside of Ukraine began earlier in 2013 against the backdrop of Putin’s gas and debt power play. 

Many have now heard about Nord Stream 2, which finished construction last September. However, Russia had finished construction on Nord Stream 1 in 2012, which gave it much more influence over Germany and Eastern Europe. 

However, both gas pipelines represent potential targets of sanctions by America that could wreck both the Russian economy as well as threaten European energy supplies. Successful sanctions would require participation by our international partners, especially Germany.

Russia has used their energy exports as a way to leverage control over their former Eastern European satellites, as they did to Belarus in January of 2020. Putin’s energy power plays have given him a strategic strangle just a few hundred miles north of Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. Putin has amassed over 30,000 troops in Belarus for military exercises. 

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine even led to the State Department issuing an order for families of embassy staff to leave Belarus this week

Belarus shares a mostly unguarded border with Ukraine. And, heavy weapons are being shipped in on both sides of that border. America has had military trainers inside the country for years.

Before Crimea was annexed by Russia, Putin was playing a long game inside the Ukrainian government. In late 2013, the then President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, decided to back out of a significant agreement he had been negotiating with the European Union. It was an unfortunate decision for him personally, as it led to an uprising that built to over 800,000 protesters in the streets of Kyiv.

Yanukovych made a side deal with Putin to buy $15 billion in Ukrainian debt in attempt to defuse the protests. However, significant numbers remained in Independence Square, which prompted passage in parliament of anti-protest legislation in January of 2014. Again, Yanukovych could not have made a more unfortunate decision for himself as the protests turned violent by February 20th.

The Sochi Olympic Games ended 3 days later on the 23rd of February, just as Yanukovych disappeared to Russia and an interim government was formed by the 26th. Putin wasted no time to capitalize on the chaos and began moving troops onto the Crimean peninsula. By March 6th, a local Crimean parliament declared a referendum in 10 days to join Russia, which began Russian ownership over this strategic peninsula for the first time since 1954.

During the Sochi Olympics, Putin had enjoyed the height of his popularity in Russia, which would peak in 2015. However, due to sanctions that began to damage the Russian economy, his popularity began withering for the next half decade to where it stands at historic lows today. Putin may believe he needs some more Ukrainian magic to bring his popularity at home back up to his Sochi and Crimean highs.

Today is a different map than back in 2014. It’s also a different Commander-in-Chief, different economic trends that all overlap with the pandemic. Same Putin though. 

Germany remains dependent on Russia for a supply of cheap gas, which is more expensive today than it was 3 years ago. Germany eliminated too many sources of energy before it was ready to go all green. May America not make the same strategic mistakes in the energy sector.

Now, in 2022, there’s another Olympics that Putin hopes to use to distract us while he dances on the global stage with the dragon in Beijing. He is desperate to find any way to fill the holes in his economy before Biden and NATO slice up the Russian economy, his gas pipelines, and his private assets hiding in the Russian oligarchy.

China is also a major concern when confronting Putin in Ukraine. Xi Jinping has not only been eyeing Taiwan his entire life, but has been flagrantly violating its airspace in the last week. A failure by NATO, the UN, and America in Ukraine would promote a pathway for China to take back their lost island and the South China Sea, forever changing the strategic landscape in the region.

Much is on the line. Biden hasn’t really had a positive development like the killing of this ISIS leader in many weeks. Watch elements on the fringe within his party find ways to sabotage our success. We know the other party will do so with glee and on repeat.

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