Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to have paid Taliban rebels in Afghanistan to kill U.S. soldiers. Having resulted in at least one American death, and maybe more, these Russian bounties reportedly produced the desired outcome. While deeply disturbing, this effort by Putin is not surprising: It follows a clear pattern of ignoring international norms, rules and laws — and daring the United States to do anything about it. Putin sees the United States as his central enemy. He fears our democratic values; believes that we actively promote these values to undermine autocrats, including himself; and loathes the liberal international order, which, in his view, serves American hegemony and weakens Russia. This latest act is designed to keep the United States bogged down in Afghanistan.
More alarming is President Trump’s response: Nothing. This, too, follows a pattern of fealty before Putin, as the president has consistently praised Putin, dismissed Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, never criticized Russian annexation of Crimea, and uttered not a word about violations of human rights and growing autocracy in Russia. Trump’s embrace of Putin, despite the clear costs to U.S. national security, has tightened. But this latest moment of indifference — silence about the killing of American soldiers — marks a new low.
We now know what to expect of Putin, whose litany of belligerent acts is long and increasingly audacious. In 2008, he invaded the republic of Georgia and then recognized its territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, an obvious and violent attack on international law. In 2014, he violated Ukrainian sovereignty by annexing Crimea, defying one of the most sacred rules of the international order since the end of World War II. After the annexation, Putin armed (and at times supported with his own soldiers) separatist movements in eastern Ukraine, resulting in more than 13,000 deaths and roughly 2 million displaced citizens; these rebels also used a Russian rocket to shoot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. In 2015, Putin deployed the Russian air force to Syria to prop up a ruthless dictator; his pilots committed war crimes when bombing Syrian civilians indiscriminately, according to the United Nations.
In 2016, Putin violated American sovereignty, trying in several ways to influence the outcome of our presidential election. The same year, Russian intelligence agents allegedly sought to orchestrate a coup in Montenegro just as the country was preparing to join NATO. In 2018, Putin attempted to assassinate an apostate intelligence officer, Sergei Skripal, in Britain, using a toxin easily traced back to Russia. Then in 2019, his agents allegedly killed Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a Chechen Georgian citizen, in Berlin, where he had sought asylum after previous attempts on his life. And now in 2020, American intelligence officials revealed that Putin has offered Taliban fighters bounties to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. [Continue reading…]