Just as most of us did at some point during the past year and a half, Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden talked via Zoom this week. Anybody know if they were both wearing sweatpants like everybody else? And did they have something embarrassing on the wall behind them that they forgot could be seen by the computer’s camera? I didn’t hear reports of barking dogs or crying children demanding attention in the background for either of them, so right away you have to figure their live conference probably went better than many of ours.
And hey, what could go wrong? As Stephen Colbert said, “Makes sense — the only way to resolve a delicate situation that requires crystal-clear communication is two old men on a Zoom.”
The electronic tete-a-tete was occasioned, of course, by the fact that “Vlad the Vanquisher” (as I’m guessing he’d like to be known), has pushed about 175,000 Russian soldiers right up next to the Ukraine border. (Kind of like Canadian snowbirds lining up across from Detroit in Windsor, Ontario, headed to Florida for the winter – only with tanks.) Rumor has it he intends to do a little turf invading within the next few weeks.
It may well be that Mr. Putin is still clinging to the notion that the former USSR (United Soviet Socialist Republic) remains a reality and a viable player on the world stage. Post-World War II, Ukraine was part of that amalgamation of countries, but it, and many other former Soviet-run states, gained independence in the aftermath of the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. The Ukranian people just might not be too keen on having Russian bosses again.
The powers-that-be in Ukraine are not without their own resources. They maintain a rather substantial army with around 250,000 soldiers ready to do battle, if necessary, to protect their homeland. The country has substantial natural resources (coal, oil, natural gas, iron ore, manganese, titanium, etc.), all of which are hot commodities on the world stage. (Well, perhaps not coal given the climate change debate, but it’s still a formidable list.) And Russia would dearly love to be calling the shots as to how those resources get utilized.
Despite the fact that, in the USSR breakup, Russia lost a third of the former Soviet Union’s land and about half its 280 million people, it apparently managed to retain a substantial amount of its guns and ammo. And we’re talking BIG guns and LOTS of ammo here. Those of a certain age will recall that the Red Menace was the reason for the Cold War of the 1950s through the 80s. It’s probably true that only the threat of mutual annihilation during that time dissuaded the launching of missiles and kept the populace of the U.S. and the Soviet Union living and breathing.
So, just what did Putin and Biden discuss on their call this week? As of this writing, that information hasn’t been made public. But supposedly our guy made it clear to the other guy that if Russia invades Ukraine, the U.S. and its allies will respond. Not so much militarily, but with strong economic measures. That sounds a little like a parent telling a child to straighten up and fly right “or else.” The “or else” is seldom spelled out, and I doubt specifics on those economic measures were enumerated this time.
Extensive research has shown that Russia imports things such as machinery, pharmaceuticals, electronics, electrical products, vehicles, and plastics. And food. Tasty items such as meat, dairy products, fruits, and nuts have been high on the list for many years. So, it occurs to me that Mr. Biden might have had some leverage with Putin if he chose to use it. If the Russian people are used to steaks, ice cream, oranges, cashews, and such, they probably wouldn’t be happy going back to beets and potatoes should an economic boycott be merited.
There is, though, one item near and dear to Russians that could be Biden’s trump card. (No pun intended regarding a former president.) That would be the country’s preferred libation . . . vodka. Did you know that Sweden and Poland are two of the largest (if not THE largest) exporters of that spirit? And I do believe those two countries are part of our core of allied nations that would take a dim view of forceful Russian expansion into a non-threatening neighboring country. Perhaps all President Biden had to say to Putin was something such as, “How much do your people like their martinis?” for him to get the hint and stand down.
We’ll see. In the interim, Cheers! Vlad, or Nostrovia! if you prefer.
©MMXXI. William J. Lewis, III – Freelance Writer